Brexit: Mayhem

This post will be relatively brief, since we’ll know in not that many hours what the EU winds up offering the UK in the way of an extension. However, the situation seems unduly fluid.

Tusk is still talking up a “long” but not longer than a year flexible extension….while Barnier is making tougher noises:

It is still unclear what a nine month or one year extension would accomplish. It’s barely enough time for a second referendum, and the Government isn’t proposing one. The Tories are unlikely to go for self-immolation, um, a General Election, and even then, it’s not clear whether a General Election would end the domestic political gridlock, particularly since so many unicorns are alive and well:

So one has to conclude that a “long” extension isn’t about the UK. It would take a much longer extension to achieve consensus around a different position, even if that were possible. So it must be about other factors, like Ireland’s lack of preparedness for a crash out, the temperament of some key figures, like the native caution of Merkel, and perhaps the desire of too many not to have a no-deal Brexit as part of their legacy, even though they went further than they should have trying to protect the UK from itself.

May is still sticking to her June 30 extension request. Don’t ask. I think there is a word in German that means something like “Feeling embarrassed for someone who ought to be embarrassed and isn’t.” Her posture is surreal given that over half the Conservative MPs in the House refused to back her request to the EU for an extension to June 30: 99 “noes” and 80 abstentions, including by some ministers. May got enough votes from Labour to secure passage.

And this is from Donald Tusk’s invitation letter to the members of the EU Council:

Given the risks posed by a no-deal Brexit for people and businesses on both sides of the English Channel, I trust that we will continue to do our utmost to avoid this scenario. Therefore I propose that we consider Prime Minister May’s request for an extension at our meeting tomorrow.

However, our experience so far, as well as the deep divisions within the House of Commons, give us little reason to believe that the ratification process can be completed by the end of June. In reality, granting such an extension would increase the risk of a rolling series of short extensions and emergency summits, creating new cliff-edge dates. This, in turn, would almost certainly overshadow the business of the EU27 in the months ahead. The continued uncertainty would also be bad for our businesses and citizens. Finally, if we failed to agree on any next extension, there would be a risk of an accidental no-deal Brexit.

The EU already has the outlines of a deal. From Richard North:

Already, draft conclusions have been leaked to the media, which suggest that the UK will be given an extension. At worst, the cut-off will be 1 June if the UK has failed to hold European elections, but otherwise it will be allowed an unspecified period “to allow for the ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement”.

The actual period has been left blank for the Council to fill in today, with the possibility that it can run on to the end of this year, or the end of March 2020. There will also be conditions imposed which prevent the UK from undermining the operation of the EU’s institutions. Mr Tusk’s flexibility will be permitted, with the extension period ending earlier if the Withdrawal Agreement is ratified.

As Clive read it: “Suggestive of a nice, long, foamy runway being created by either the EU27, the U.K. — or both — for No Deal.”

The EU isn’t budging on the Withdrawal Agreement. Again from Tusk’s letter:

Some of you have raised concerns that the UK’s continued presence as a departing EU country would pose risks for the functioning of the EU27 at a time of key decisions on its future. To address them we would need to agree on a number of conditions: no re-opening of the Withdrawal Agreement; no start of the negotiations on the future, except for the Political Declaration; the UK would have to maintain its sincere cooperation also during this crucial period, in a manner that reflects its situation as a departing member state. We should remember, however, that the United Kingdom will remain a member state with full rights and obligations. And, in any event, the UK can revoke Article 50 at any time, as stated by the European Court of Justice.

By e-mail, our Clive dismissed the idea that the EU could stand firm behind the Withdrawal Agreement, given that so many key players, Barnier, Juncker, and May, would be gone by December, and Merkel would either be out or even more in lame duck mode. I am less certain because my impression is many EU member states, as well as Brussels, have strong civil services. That leads to much more continuity of policy, because the civil servants have expertise and continuity of knowledge, and astute politicians consider their recommendations. Japanese companies have a more extreme version of this system, where business decisions are made at the top of the middle-management level, and passed through the executive ranks for approval, which is generally a formality.

In other words, even though the text of the Withdrawal Agreement isn’t likely to remain as sacrosanct as Tusk would like it to be, it is hard to see the EU retreating from key positions embodied in it, such at the Irish backstop and the “£39 billion” divorce tab (note the actual amount is conditioned on future events plus is paid out over time).

It appears that some of Robert Peston’s gossip we’d relied upon was wrong. The “no deal Brexit” planning in the Government is in overdrive. From Huffington Post:

Emergency no-deal Brexit planning has been ramped up at a key government department responsible for food supply, with officials now working 24 hours a day to minimise potential disruption

HuffPost UK has learnt that the EU Exit Emergency Centre (EUXE), based in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), has intensified operations this week amid fears of a potential accidental no-deal Brexit on Friday.

Don’t place much stock in Tory/Labour cooperation. There’s way too much historical bad blood and mistrust. From The Times:

Theresa May’s hopes of persuading European Union leaders that she can reach a deal with Labour to break the Brexit deadlock appeared doomed last night after cross-party talks broke down without progress. Sources on both sides of the negotiations said that four hours of detailed discussions yesterday had served only to show “just how far away” the two parties were.

Labour said that ministers had failed to offer any further concessions to break the deadlock and feared that Mrs May was being prevented from compromising by cabinet hardliners. Meanwhile, senior Conservative sources questioned Labour’s sincerity in wanting to come to a deal, pointing to division among Jeremy Corbyn’s backbenchers on a second referendum.

And from Richard North:

A sign of the nastiness that is infiltrating the discourse then came at a Bruges Group meeting, where audience members shouted “fuck government” and repeatedly yelling “traitor!” at the mention of Mrs May. Previously quite sensible people seems to have lost any sense of perspective, while rationality has long since disappeared.

On that basis, it is very hard to see how Mrs May or any Tory prime minister can conclude an arrangement with Corbyn and, even if that was possible, there is absolutely no certainty that there will be any success in getting the Withdrawal Agreement through parliament, even with the support of the Labour leadership.

Awfully late in the game, revoking Article 50 is getting traction in the House of Commons as preferable to a crash out if May can’t secure an extension or comes back with terms deemed too harsh. From the Telegraph:

Philip Hammond raised the prospect that MPs will revoke Article 50 this week rather than allow Britain to leave without a deal if Brexit talks collapse. The Chancellor warned on Tuesday that the value of the pound could fall significantly if Theresa May fails to reach agreement on a Brexit delay with Brussels. He suggested that the impact of uncertainty on the markets could encourage MPs to vote to reverse Brexit by revoking Article 50.

David Lidington, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, is said to have warned that the Government would no longer be in control and that Parliament and the Speaker would determine how to proceed.

Mr Hammond and Mr Lidington made the comments during a meeting on Tuesday morning in which ministers including Michael Gove, Jeremy Hunt, James Cleverly and Chris Grayling “war-gamed” a series of scenarios for this week. Mr Hammond, the Chancellor, and Mr Gove, the Environment Secretary, both raised the prospect that MPs will vote to revoke Article 50 rather than accept no deal on April 12.

In the end, what does delay accomplish? The Withdrawal Agreement will not become better loved with the passage of time. The UK seems incapable of settling on any realistic long-term vision of a relationship with the EU, and in any event, that bit comes after settling on a Withdrawal Agreement. So the choices seem to be no deal or revocation. Will the UK man up and make a deliberate choice, or wind up with one or the other by accident or panicked response?

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  1. The Rev Kev

    Maybe what the EU should do is give the UK an extension of several months but with one proviso. The UK can revoke Article 50, call a General Election or hold a second referendum – their choice. If not, May will just waffle the time away and wait till the last moment to try brinkmanship yet once again with Parliament.

      1. Pinhead

        The referendum question is already well formulated, namely accept the negotiated deal or stay in the E.U. The immediate question is how to get Parliament to face up to this choice and authorise the referendum. At some point the E.U. just may force them to do so. Can Tusk persuade the Council?

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          No, the referendum question is NOT well formulated. Making stuff up is against our site Policies.

          1. Labour and the Conservatives are negotiating now regarding a different type of deal, a “customs union” which is actually a very hard Brexit but the parties have convinced themselves otherwise so they really mean “customs union plus other stuff we haven’t begun to sort out”.

          2. The ERG will insist on having “no deal” as an option. They will probably lose but that fight will take time. Leave won, or did you forget that? “Leave” for some voters was not conditional. Even now, polls show about 25% of the public supports no deal.

    1. Clive

      Somewhat bizarrely, France’s posturing about how awful, just awful any U.K. continual membership of the EU would be does in some ways actually serve to strengthen the U.K.’s hand in negotiations. The absolute worst, most horrid and last thing those in the EU pushing for closer integration want to see is the U.K. still being a member. A resentful U.K. serving as a coordinator and rallying cry to other malcontents and putting every spanner at its disposal in the works — plus a cohort of deplorable euro skeptic MEPs — is not a pleasant prospect. Nor is a U.K. which is constantly threatening (it wouldn’t need to be a stated threat, it is so obviously a potentially plausible outcome that no-one has to go around saying it overtly; these are the best sorts of threats) to re-invoke Article 50 and thus put the whole sorry saga in motion again.

      So, hence the bizarreness, a U.K. which looks like it might stay in the EU (either as an intentional policy or just a knee-jerk response to Events) is an incentive for closer integrationists to soften the EU27’s stance on Brexit, lest a hard-nosed approach — such as the one you’re suggesting — results in risk of the U.K.’s cancellation of it. Plus as Yves correctly pointed out above, some options have very lengthy timescales and others are by no means certain to end conclusively. Or predictably.

      Responses to Brexit which made sense three years ago can’t be assumed to be quite so clear-cut now. We all know so much more than we did when we started. A lengthy extension at least allows the protagonists to take a long, hard look at their positioning and work out what bits to keep and which bits have outlived their usefulness as they are now doing more harm than good.

        1. Clive

          Only a test of acting in good faith. A change of U.K. government as a result of a General Election or even a change of Conservative party leader (and thus Prime Minister) — or some other similar substantive reason — would satisfy that. As would any additional move by the EU towards further integration, especially if another treaty was issued and Member States expected to ratify it.

          Anything so long as the U.K. was not clearly and fairly-unarguably being deliberately vexatious. Proving bad faith is a very high bar, in international law.

            1. Clive

              It was a bit of a fudge (yeah, shocking, just shocking). Here’s the exact wording:

              The revocation of Article 50 itself must be “submitted in writing to the European Council”, and it must be “unequivocal and unconditional”. That the revocation must be unequivocal implies that the UK could not revoke to get a breathing space in order to prepare better to resend the Article 50 notification in due course. However, it is not exactly clear what the EU could do about it if the UK did adopt that approach.

              Generally, the consensus of opinion is that so long as there wasn’t a “revoke-reinvoke” manoeuvre which was clearly designed to buy time for the U.K. or be just the U.K. being annoying on purpose — and there had been some material change in circumstances in either the EU or the U.K. it would be very difficult for the Council to mount a legal challenge to a U.K. rescinding of Article 50 and then, say, a year or two later, re-invoking it again. It certainly wouldn’t be anything a Member State or Member States could rely on being able to thwart.

              1. disillusionized

                Id say that the safeguards are political rather than legal – that is to say, if the UK re-invoked (in bad faith), the EU would just refuse to negotiate.

      1. Avidremainer

        I think it is about time that people in the UK accepted a few home truths. Mrs May has played all her cards. The brexit negotiations have humiliated this country. We have found out just what power we have as a nation and it isn’t much.
        One thing Brexiteers assume is that in any European elections held in the UK the result will be a mirror image of the last European election. Taint necessarily so.
        The Brexiteers gained influence because only 30% or so of the UK electorate took the EU parliament elections seriously. This mistake will not happen again.
        If we have European Parliamentary elections as a result of any extension the EU deigns to give us, expect a larger turnout with some high profile losses among the Brexiteers.
        By the way the idiot Francois states that if we do participate in the elections then the EU will see “…perfidious Albion on speed.” It’s no good being perfidious if they see you coming.

        1. Aarond

          You’re extremely optimistic. If anything, this whole mess has been gasoline on Brexiters who probably could have been quietly persuaded to accept a soft Brexit under a majority gov’t, assuming May could have provided it in the first place.

          Anything short of a hard crashout means -KIP type parties become immediately relevant again. As the underlying issues that caused Brexit have not been addressed and are only getting worse (Carillion’s collapse, pathetic LEO responses to grooming gangs, breakdown of social welfare, etc) another Brexit is likely and their side has no problem hyping Brexit until they get a Brexit. Mogg’s threats about wrecking the EU from the inside have not gone unnoticed, and there’s a sizable chunk of all Europeans including Britons willing to vote for it.

          1. Avidremainer

            You are assuming that it is only the Brexiteers who are angry. There is only one side that can get 1,000,000 people on the streets.

      2. Pavel

        The Graun is now reporting that the French are insisting that the UK lose their EU commission post in return for an extension. Seems reasonable enough, really.

        UK set to lose European commissioner role over Brexit delay:

        France is expected to demand the removal of the post of British European commissioner as a price for a long Brexit delay, leaving Britain without a seat at the top table of Brussels decision-making for the first time since 1973.

        Senior EU sources say the French president, Emmanuel Macron, is likely to seek to entrench the UK’s reduced status in the EU at the leaders’ Brexit summit on Wednesday evening.

        It is understood the commission is backing the plan. “The commission will demand this; it is logical,” said one senior EU diplomat, adding that a British commissioner could not take a seat “if the term of the mandate is short”. A French spokesman declined to comment on its position.

        Thus adding to the ultras’ fury, no doubt…

      3. Jim A.

        So when negotiations began two years ago, May initially thought that the leverage that she would have in negotiations was that the UK was such an important trading partner that the EU27 would cut a deal on terms advantageous to the UK. But now her only leverage is the threat of STAYING in the EU. The UK has gone from “They want us so bad they’ll agree to anything,” to “They hate us so much they’ll agree to something.”

        1. Pavel

          At this point I wonder why the EU doesn’t just dump the UK now? The no-deal Brexit will be difficult but what about having the dysfunctional, toxic UK in the EU for another year? And some claim the EU would welcome Britain back if they revoke the Article 50, but that is a poisoned chalice indeed, as it were. Regardless of the decision today there will be virtual civil war in the UK for years to come, and the probable destruction of the Tory party as it is now (and good riddance!). Who wants that as a partner?

          1. Avidremainer

            Couple of points need making.There is not the wherewithal to wage civil war in the UK.
            As to the Conservatives, they have a remarkable ability to regenerate. It may take some time-when they split in 1846 they did not recover meaningful power ’til 1870. They never go away.
            Conservatives splits usually follow the same patterns. The clever ones move left, ie join the Liberals the stupid ones remain until they accept that they were on the wrong side of the argument and start attracting a wider membership.
            The Tories are trying to give the impression that the UK is full of bad faith actors, we’re not all like that.

      4. Ignacio

        I feel like Pebble, the cockatoo, in freakout mode. And coining new terms: brexstallers, bremainers….
        I told you, I told you! What the f@c#!

      5. skk

        I think I heard some commentator state on Newsnight ( BBC, via iPlayer) last night that since Merkel does not want the fast speed European integration that Macron wants, then having the UK in there dragging it’s feet, ReesMogg style would paradoxically meet her agenda well.
        I’m not so sure The perfidious quote applied to Albion not Allemagne.

    2. Joe Well

      Regarding revocation: has any leading Remain figure made any major statements to the effect that in the event of revocation they will enact some of Leave’s concerns, like limiting unskilled immigration with the tools provided under EU law, increasing funding for the NHS, and whatever else they thought they were voting for?

  2. Doggrotter

    Tried to Google..
    I think there is a word in German that means something like “Feeling embarrassed for someone who ought to be embarrassed and isn’t.”
    …but I couldn’t find it, if any knows it please tell. It reminded me of the German Film “Toni Erdmann”

    1. Toni M

      Doggrotter – A quick DuckDuckGo search suggests: Fremdschämen

      Rev – I can tell you that the amount of wailing and rage you’d hear if the EU dictated such terms would be echoed across the continent, not to mention the practical impediments of the second referendum.

      I was certain that we would sleepwalk into no deal, I’m just amazed that the can has been kicked further down the road for more unproductive wheelspinning.

    2. The Rev Kev

      Nearest one that I can find is fremdschämen

      (reflexive, informal) to feel ashamed about something someone else has done; to be embarrassed because someone else has embarrassed himself (and doesn’t notice)

      I see that ChiGal in Carolina has beat me to it.

    3. Rees

      It is Fremdschämen. It’s slang and is a neologism. It was fist entered into the German Duden Lexicon in 2009 and was German Word of the Year in 2010. I use it, hear it and, feel it pretty often!

      1. Peter

        I was born Germany, lived there for 30 years and have never heard or used this word. But then – I have lived in Canada for 35+ years and now estou morrar no portugal…
        Usually one would say: “Ich schaeme mich fuer deine Unfaehigkeit”…

        1. R M L H STOLL

          …..have never heard or used this word.
          That may be because you never mingled with persons who ought to be embarrassed. Good for you!

    4. hemeantwell

      Here it’s truly an interesting phenomenon, to painfully identify with someone you otherwise despise. Why doesn’t Schadenfreude kick in instead? I’m thoroughly skeptical of anything smacking of evolutionary psychology, but are we reaching a threshold where outrage at leaders for objectively valid reasons begins to seem dangerous in a hindbrain sort of way, so we find ourselves pitying them instead? I raise this only to encourage ignoring these impulses, if they in fact exist.

      1. Nat

        And that is exactly why I can’t watch that. I experience vicarious embarrassment, or “Fremdschämen,” really easily and the British Office is literally painful for me to watch. In trying I end up squirming and averting my gaze through most of it while clenching my teeth to the point where I am probably doing damage to the enamel. I appreciate the brilliance of that show and respect its craft, but I would be in a tough position if I had to decide between binge watching all of the British The Office or being waterboarded for a few hours.

        1. shtove

          At the time of its original broadcast, millions of British people hid behind their sofas. Many never re-emerged.

  3. is(de)

    The German word should be “Fremdschämen” and unfortunately I see its attraction for people following the Brexit chaos.

  4. PlutoniumKun

    I’m completely baffled by the messages coming out right now. I’ve noticed that the various news reports have been very generalised and look like wide briefings – they are not (so far as I’ve noticed) been confirmed by the small number of very well connected journalists. So I suspect there is a certain amount of messaging going on. Is the EU hoping to trap May into unilaterally declaring either a no-deal or A.50 revocation? Or perhaps Varadkar and Merkel are hoping to force Macron to be the ‘bad cop’ by cutting the UK’s last hope?

    Extending the date by a year seems to solve nothing. May is incapable of getting agreement. It only allows more time for preparations and help get the subject off the plate for those politicians who have their own agendas for the next 6 months or so. But it may be that the EU has now descended into waffle mode, so are just creating a fudge agreement to get themselves through to the Euro elections and the summer hols.

    It does seem that a substantive part of the Tory party would now, if they could, sabotage any agreement to force a no-deal on Friday. Do they have any leverage to do this? Labour may well feel an immediate no-deal is in their interest so would not help May.

    As far as preparations go, I’ve no doubt there has been frantic work done, but that doesn’t mean its been done properly. Ireland has put in place the infrastructure for additional customs at the main ports and there has been a lot of work ‘on the ground’ done for the border – including (we now know) intensive security agreements with the Northern Ireland police. The problem for those doing the work is that the more uncertainty there is about dates, the harder it gets for them. It may be that an additional 12 months makes things harder, not easier, as businesses start assuming postponements will go on indefinitely and lose the sense of urgency.

    1. Clive

      No, there’s absolutely zero opportunities for any Conservative party Ultras to force a No Deal. May is still (I say with my head in my hands) the Head of Government and it is her who has unassailable authority to agree to an extension, if offered, in the Council. The nicely tidied up Cooper-Letwin Bill actually forces her to do this and forces Parliament to accept her being forced to do so (I hope that makes sense, little else does, so I might at least be on trend).

      As the last Article 50 extension proved, international law is a higher authority than domestic (U.K.) law so whatever May agrees with the Council is the legal position regardless of whatever any restless hard Brexit MPs think of the matter.

        1. Clive

          “Forcing an endgame” is itself a bit of a unicorn. Kicking the U.K. out at short notice is not entirely without the risk of the U.K. simply rescinding Article 50 in response. As I explore in longer form above, having the U.K. continuing to be an EU Member State is not necessarily a good outcome for the EU. There are fairly plausible reasons why the EU might be strongly incentivised to prevent or circumvent this from happening — including dialling down the “throw ‘em out” rhetoric.

            1. Which is worse - bankers or terrorists

              What about extending forever? There’s a fourth.

              That one is probably the least painful in short-termist thinking, which is likely to dominate for some time.

            1. Clive

              France, certainly, seems to think that would merely be exchanging one sort of nightmare for another, different, nightmare.

            2. Brooklin Bridge

              If the EU27 were to go to the Macron side, would A50 revocation be possible in a practical sense before the 12th? It seems like the one and only constant here is that no one, but no one can make up their minds (or grab a hot potato). The UK government (and I use government in its broadest sense), is not the only one who is in disarray.

              Another question (or observation) is that if the EU grants an extension, does not that encourage May’s (or whoever) tactic of perpetually stalling anything that isn’t exactly what she told everyone else they want, and will repeat until they get it straight in their minds?

              It seems the softening of the EU27’s position in it’s (supposedly brilliant/clever) demands of only a short time ago puts May in the drivers seat (and a crazy stubborn petulant bouncing and careening from side to side driver at that). Is that what they really want? It’s more than understandable that they want to avoid a crash-out, but they might have thought of that a few weeks ago when they imposed the 12th. They have now shown their hand to be one of no more resolve than anyone else and (though I’m sure to be missing something) it also seems to play railroad train chicken with disaster in the upcoming EU27 elections.

              1. Donn

                If the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland does indeed crash out on the 12 April, there’ll be a darkly poetic resonance to it, seeing as that date marks the anniversary of the Royal and Parliamentary Titles Act, which recognized the departure of most of the island of Ireland from the British state.

          1. Peter

            risk of the U.K. simply rescinding Article 50 in response.

            I wonder how this would play out in the streets of the UK?

            1. Clive

              We can only speculate. In my diametrically the opposite of humble opinion, “Meh”. There’s a lot of hyperventilating in the mainstream media about all things Brexit — they’ve got the space between the ads to fill, after all. Most everyone has an opinion. It’s become the go-to handy filler of awkward silences and what to talk to people about who you don’t know.

              But. Three years already. If even the EU Council can’t really make up its mind about what to do (and the U.K. Parliament certainly can’t) then as a general population most reasonable people appreciate there is no right- or wrong- answer. If there was a single argument that’s going to win a knock-out blow, we’d have heard it by now.

              Of course, there’s always some unreasonable people… people who are naive enough to believe in the existence of absolutes.

              1. Joe Well

                In any case, if the Remainers are the large majority in London, and for that matter, the other big cities, that would certainly seem to limit the risk of riots paralyzing the national government.

            2. Avidremainer

              Compare the turnout for the recent revoke Article 50 demonstration with Farage’s attempt to celebrate 29th of March.
              The other thing to contemplate is that the march of the Zimmer Brigade would be something to behold.

          2. Mirdif

            “KIcking the U.K. out”

            Laughable. Do you need an explanation as to why the UK is not being “kicked out” or can you work it out yourself?

    2. Clive

      (second reply, sorry, trying to break this down into sensible topics!)

      In the U.K. too, a fair amount of movement on No Deal Brexit-enabler infrastructure like significantly increased capacity truck stops but these will need at least a year to build out, 18 months to two years preferably.

      But without a bit of a stick to poke people with, the impetuous to actually finish things off is not there. So a clearly signalled “it’ll be No Deal, it’ll be by the end of 2020 and no later, but it won’t be a cliff edge, there will be a reasonable, flexible — but not indefinite — amount of time” statement would be sensible. But the current incumbents — in both the U.K. and the EU27 — have too many previous convictions to be able to do that, so we keep going round in the same circles.

      1. Anders K

        Well, there’s an old (ish) Discordian saying “convictions cause convicts

        I doubt it’ll happen in this instance, though.

        That said, currently feels like there’s a lot of Hot Potato going around “YOU should trigger No Deal” “No, you should!” “Nuh uh!” “Yes way!”… and so on.

    3. Matthew Kopka

      Is a certain amount of ‘date certainty’ built into an extension, though? If there is an ever-clearer reading that no Brexit is a certainty–too little time to properly stage a referendum, etc.–maybe knowing the end of the year is it gives eight months for government and business to do a lot more careful planning.

      OTOH, an awful lot of resources will have been expended and person-hours wasted if Britain somehow withdraws. . .

  5. DaveH

    Something I’ve not seen raised anywhere and I have no idea whether it’s an important something or not. I assume that it can’t be, otherwise it would be getting more traction that it otherwise is.

    The final legislative session of the current European Parliament is April 18th. The draft withdrawal agreement needs to be approved by a vote of the European Parliament for it to become active in European Law. What happens if the UK Parliament approves the DWA on say, May 10th?

    Do they interrupt the elections to get a load of (possibly not-sitting-in-future) MEPS back Brussels to vote? Does EU law even allow them to do that if that Parliament has technically finished sitting? Do they wait for the next one in July? Can that happen straight away or do they need to wait for Commission elections / appointments to happen? If it can happen straight away, what happens in the few days between June 30th (the requested date) and a few days later when the new Parliament sits for the first time?


  6. oaf

    Jeesh!!!…come on, folks!…git ‘er done!!!

    Use the Jim Morrison option:

    …Break on through to the other side!…

    The current (lack of) leadership is abusing the welfare of most of the citizens of the UK. Never mind what they are doing to any vestiges of sanity among the EU members…Cut the losses! Especially the loss of otherwise potentially productive time.

  7. Trick Shroade

    Brexit is turning out to be a classic example of “If voting made a difference they wouldn’t let us do it.”

  8. Tom

    The part of this article that stood out for me was that Barnier, who had until very recently been making making statements about no-deal being very likely, said in the General Affairs yesterday

    Our objective is an orderly withdrawal. “No-deal” will never by the EU’s decision.

    Which means that the UK government in the PM’s in statements over the weekend (and let’s assume Clive is right that Ultras can’t force it), UK parliament in Cooper-Letwin, and now EUCO have all clearly accepted that no-deal is no longer functional as a threat in negotiating the UK into the bonds of WA. Default no-deal’s bluff has been called.

    So what now can EUCO do other than aussitzen, i.e. wait until something changes? Tusk’s Flextension follows naturally.

    That leaves the question of how long the extension should allow. Indefinite. That’s what the leaked draft says—the date was reported to be written as XX-XX-XXXX—because it doesn’t really matter. The extension isn’t for anything other than not imposing no-deal. EUCO knows May won’t have a sensible proposition for what it is for and Macron’s just grumbling for domestic reasons.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      No, you are reading more into Barnier’s statement than he said.

      The EU agreed a deal with the UK government. Barnier is saying it’s not the EU’s doing that the UK refused to ratify it and could still reject whatever the EU offers today. Barnier has said before a crashout is not the EU’s preference. Why would have he negotiated so hard over such a long time otherwise?

      The EU’s being unduly generous is a political calculation. As indicated, Ireland, which has been lobbying hugely for an extension, is likely a much bigger driver of the EU’s over-accommodativeness than any tender concern for the UK. Individual EU leaders, particularly Merkel, likely don’t want a Brexit as part of their legacy even though the EU made valiant efforts to help the UK get over itself.

  9. Joe Well

    I think there is a word in German that means something like “Feeling embarrassed for someone who ought to be embarrassed and isn’t.”

    Not quite the same since it’s not usually used for someone who is trying to wreck an entire subcontinent’s future so she can hang onto office a few months longer, but in Spanish, at least in Mexico, you could say, “Theresa May me da pena ajena”. English doesn’t have this concept, does it?

    1. Sanxi

      The concept: paying to get your kids into college illegally and getting caught and either being the parent, the kid or just reading about it. To the point the EU has always wanted the U.K. to revoke by any means, today, tomorrow, next year, doesn’t matter. And likely this is exactly what the PM will do.

  10. McGardner

    Clive: I’ve really appreciated your commentary through this whole farce… but foaming the runway made my day. Thnx

  11. Iorwerth

    Am I right in thinking that in the event of a crash out, UK would then have to go, cap in hand, to the EU to ask for multiple trade agreements? No agreements means an iron curtain or Mexican wall in Calais surely? EU then says ‘Sure, sign the WA and then we’ll talk trade’.

    What are the chances of the border being drawn down the North Sea, through the Channel and out into the Western Approaches (another WA!)? Then EU gives Eire a ginormous bung, (which makes the DUP one look like the change down the back of the sofa), in the form of capital projects, transport subs, customs posts etc to keep them happy and in the Union?

    1. Avidremainer

      Spotted the fly in the ointment of the ERGs plans have you?
      It would almost be worth leaving the EU with no deal to see the lightbulb blinding Rees-Mogg from inside his head. ” Oh sorry, my apologies, I realise we’ve just told you to f*ck off but can we talk about a few things?”

  12. Susan the other`

    I’ve got sovereignty on my mind. Even the World Bank is getting into the act. The great blender of private and public for the benefit of private. Maybe it’s time to acknowledge that there is no common ground on the subject. Sovereignty doesn’t travel well, it doesn’t cooperate well and it’s really not transferrable in any political sense. But it is the reason nobody can make federation work. Federation is a natural economic process. Sovereignty is a local political process. And etc. But the EU is crashing on the rocks because it can’t solve the differences between the two. And Brexit doesn’t even have a concept of the confrontation, let alone an accurate vocabulary. That’s a first for the Brits.

    1. Mattski

      An MMT’er told me yesterday that he thought dual currencies were the only thing that could save the EU. If anyone is up on this I would like to hear because I have been trying to understand how MMT might work in highly indebted poor countries.

      1. susan the other`

        My guess is that he can see that MMT is fiscal management theory. That’s the only thing that can possibly work. imo. Read today’s post by Tchernevka. It’s spectacular and you’ll understand the whole universe afterward. well, maybe just the universe of money.

  13. Carlito Riego

    I’ve been an avid follower of your reporting on Brexit, which is obviously the most informed and the most accurate.

    One small thing however: with the UK apparently unable to get itself to leave and the EU unable to cut its toxic relationship, you’ll run out fast of doomsday related words pretty fast as Brexit mess drags on indefinitely.

    How about ‘Waiting for Godot’ or this (obviously updated) quote from the Shinning: “Britain; can’t leave with it, can’t leave without it”.

    As a Frenchman tired of this mess, I’m quite frustrated at Europe’s unwillingness to cut Britain lose. Indeed, I do believe that showing other European countries how messy the aftermath is could temper some idiotic people asking for their country to leave the EU.

    At the same time, I feel that people are so mis-informed by ridiculously low mainstream press reporting that Europe will be blame should it let Britain go… Could this be a case of people being nice but eventually blamed for not showing up muscle when they had the chance to do so ?

  14. Cynic

    If I were the EU, I would revisit Article 50. Its default, leaving without a deal, causes unnecessary fragility. Why? Leaving without a deal is guaranteed to cause suffering both for the EU and for the country that is leaving. Businesses on both sides of any future border have grown to fit larger more specialised markets. Imposing a border is effectively changing their ecological niche, and many companies will die. For instance, Northern Ireland has specialised on making milk, and will end up with too much of it, whereas the Republic of Ireland will suffer from a lack of milk.

    A less fragile design would involve a gradual process: first you decide to leave. Then you have 5-10 years to ensure businesses on either side of the future border trade less and less with each other, allowing them to adapt. Then finally once the separation will be relatively painless, you have a second referendum to see whether people are still happy with the resulting loss of trade.

    Being somewhat cynical, I expect the fragility of the current Article 50 was intentional, in order to give the EU a cudgel with which to threaten wayward countries with extermination. Nevertheless, I contend that was a stupidly short sighted decision only politicians could like: it considers only the first order consequences, not the second order consequences. It is particularly disappointing that the EU, which was created to prevent wars in Europe, has not learned from history: The traité de Versailles, “L’Allemagne paiera!” (Germany will pay), had as first order consequence France being paid reparations by Germany, and as an entirely predictable second order consequence the rise of German nationalism and another world war.

    In the mean time, I would give the UK a long extension, say 5 years. Clearly they don’t have a plan, and have a dysfunctional government. If they just leave today, it will cause a significant amount of economic damage to the rest of the block, and indeed the world economy. Once they’ve sorted themselves out and are reasonably prepared to leave, then they can have another go at it. Over time, common sense might penetrate even the thickest skulls. The old dogs who cannot learn new tricks and are still pining for the 1950s will have died.

    “Oh, what about the will of the people?” I hear people wail. Putting aside the fact the referendum was based on lies, and putting aside the fact it was conducted illegally and therefore would have been vacated had it been binding, reality always trumps votes. However much we’d like to return to a golden past, voting does not reverse time. If the people vote for something that will clearly destroy the country, the role of government is not to obey. Had Camoron, and his peers had proper educations, they would never have held this referendum because the consequences of losing it were plain to see. Now that the government has belatedly realised its predicament, they should revoke Article 50. The fact they don’t clearly shows what a pickle they’ve gotten themselves into, and how poor the education at Eton and Oxford’s PPE track must now be.

    1. Cynic

      Well Macron is quite the twit.


      He’s been hoping to have a stronger role creating more convergence in the EU when those annoying independently minded Brits had finally left. A new Empire to be lead by French bureaucrats! Instead, he’s pissed off the Germans who were always reluctant to create a more centralised EU, making his long term goals all the harder. And everyone else will have noticed how small a vision he holds.

      Furthermore, the October 31st extension means everyone is more likely to get a repeat in 6 months, whereas a longer extension would have made a third referendum more likely, something most of the EU probably desires.

  15. R40

    Extend and pretend. The consequences are too much for either side to bear so extend it and hope it goes away.

  16. Mirdif

    There will not be “no deal”. This would demonstrate a fundamental failure to adhere to international obligations of the United Kingdom and for this reason alone the British state will not countenance it, ever.

    If any other country had politicians that were displaying the same levels of delusion, lunacy, mendacity and incompetence the British government would be calling for reforms and how such people should not be allowed near the levers of power. Apparently, the same criteria doesn’t apply when the seat of government is London.

    May’s deal is likely to be ratified, possibly by the end of June, with the country being put on to a path where the Brexit on offer is ever so slightly less hard i.e. Customs Union or somesuch arrangement and will be specified in the PD.

    EFTA/EEA or Custom Pillar/EEA is not tenable as the four freedoms will be in play and the lunatics will not accept this. This is because Brexit is no longer only about leaving the EU. It has become mixed with identity politics, a legacy of Blairism which has been and continues to be the dominant political thinking in the UK, and it is also mixed with notions of culture war as espoused primarily by Michael Gove but Rees-Mogg, Johnson and Raab are also adherents to varying degrees and for varying purposes.

    Leave voters are going to be very disappointed when they do not get the dividends they were promised or they imagined. Austerity has ended and it has left behind failing and crumbling infrastructure. In order to slow down the crumbling of the infrastructure, government will increase taxes and thus we will have returned neatly to the policies of the 1970s. The tax rises will lead to a brain drain and with the toxic, and dare I say it, racist atmosphere in the country the unskilled and low skilled and desparate from the third world will make up the bulk of those wanting to come to Blighty for work.

    Neoliberalism will increase and will be locked in to prevent reversal by Corbyn should he ever get in and thus the voters in the former industrial areas will be exposed to more globalisation. Pretty much everything has already been sold with the exception of the NHS which will be increasingly outsourced in a situation similar to the rail fiasco.

  17. Mickey Hickey

    MS May’s specialty is creating unnecessary deadlines and mini crises.
    The options now appear to be:
    1)Conservative and Labour party negotiations about two to four weeks. Highly unlikely to succeed.
    2) General Election four months. Stalemate continues.
    3) Followed by a referendum, six months.
    4) EU makes a take it or leave it offer if Brexit is still alive after the referendum, two weeks.

    Clearly the British Government is paralysed.
    Donald Tusk’s offer is generous and makes sense.

  18. Ignacio

    I have read that the EU will propose the UK to remain until things get clear (¿¿¿???) but they will not sit in the decission making 27 group. Stay, but aside, they say.

  19. flora

    Not to be blasphemous, but the main actors in UK – May, JRM, various Labour, DUP, et al – are acting like near ‘religious converts’ to the church of laissez faire economics, aka neoliberalism. e.g. May believes her plan will work because she believes. JRM believes is plan will work because he believes. In the face of events showing otherwise there’s no rethinking things based on conditions in the real world. This failure is the worst, imo. Something has collapsed that will be hard to put right.

    Talking about the Ethiopian Max crash brought out a lot of very interesting commentary from big jet pilots. One of the things remarked on was that some countries/airlines insist autopilot must be used – no hand flying the airplane – and flying is done by script instead of experience and individual decision making. I’m probably stretching this point too far, but, is the UK govt (and many other neoliberal govts) running their country on equivalent of a neolib autopilot? That’s a frightening thought.

    1. Andy Raushner

      I am a Bavarian nationalist, separation from Germany now!!!!!!!! Its time to take our people back!!!!!

      1. flora

        I suppose my comment deserves mockery given my stretched analogy about running complex and life-or-death systems on autopilot, either because one is instructed to, or because one believes autopilot can’t fail, or because one is incapable of doing anything else. However, either never learning the skill or destroying the existing skill base (as in the civil service) dangerously reduces the available options.

  20. Anonymous2

    There are suggestions now that the UK Parliament will be sent on holiday starting tomorrow.

    Getting MPs out of the way so that they cannot interfere in the Government of the country?

  21. Andy Raushner

    Hearing rumors that crash out is in progress and will be spread out over the rest of the year? Anybody else hear that?

  22. ChrisPacific

    Extension to 31 October – not long enough to resolve anything, but too long to keep the pressure on. Groundhog Day, here we come!

      1. Which is worse - bankers or terrorists

        I stand by the prediction, Option#4, extend forever, is the way forward.

  23. oaf

    …..try to run, try to hide…

    break on through to the other side….

    Flora?…your metaphor is just fine!!!

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