Brexit: Sleepwalking

As UK-based readers know all too well, the odds of a no deal Brexit have risen, to the degree that the measured Sir Ivan Rogers in a speech earlier this week deemed it to be the most likely outcome.

The effect of the Brexit extension has been to give a new shot of life to the Ultras. Even though leaving without a deal is still a minority position, the success of Nigel Farage’s Brexit party in the European Parliament elections and the threat it represents to the Conservatives has radicalized the Brexit debate.

But a critical element has been the departure of Theresa May, which has finally led to a leadership contest that was delayed in large measure due to the antipathy for all the pretenders to the throne, most of all Boris Johnson. But even the fabulously tenacious May finally ran out of runway.

As UK based readers know well, the Conservative leadership battle is determined by party members, as in paid up party members, who number about 160,000. They are far more hard core about Brexit than Conservative voters generally, much the less the public at large. We ran this tweet in Links but it bears repeating:

Chris Grey described last week how the debate was playing out:

One notable feature of the current Brexit debate is the extent to which no-deal Brexit….has come to occupy centre stage, whereas it scarcely featured at all during the referendum campaign and is completely different to what leave voters were promised.

That shift has been underway for a long while, of course, but it has become pivotal to the Tory leadership contest where being willing to countenance, if not actually advocate, no deal has become the crucial test of viable candidacy….

The reasons for this shift are many, including the way the Brexit Ultras have consistently pushed to ever more extreme positions – soft Brexit became redefined as no Brexit, hard Brexit as soft Brexit and, eventually, no-deal Brexit as true Brexit. In this way, no deal became normalised and even mainstream.

Beneath that is the central lie of Brexit itself – far deeper than the £350M, although that was one manifestation of it. It is the proposition that it would be possible to leave the EU and yet largely continue to act as if still a member….

With respect to business and trade, this was encapsulated in the nonsense term ‘market access’, suggesting – or at least readable as meaning – something the same as now but without EU membership….

That was always a logical and practical impossibility, and it did not survive contact with the reality of the negotiations. The ‘Barnier staircase’ diagram neatly captured this: each form of being ‘out’ was different from being in, each UK condition or red line determined what form being out would take.

Needless to say, with the Tories refusing to budge from their fundamental delusion, we’ve seen a parade of familiar unicorns: the “managed no deal,” the techno-magical Irish border fix, the “don’t worry, we can trade on WTO rules,” the “don’t worry, we can stitch up trade deals quickly.”

Sir Ivan stooped to dismiss a well-loved unicorn, “We can withhold the £39 billion divorce payment”:

The real issue on the 39bn is not that failure to pay it would constitute a conventional sovereign default. I don’t believe that to bethe case, though I defer to the lawyers on that.

It is that manifestly, any failure to pay it completely guarantees that the EU would refuse to open Free Trade Agreement negotiations under Article 218 of the Treaty–a decision which requires unanimity. And patently will not get it if we refuse to honour the obligation the previous Prime Minister took, on her own Attorney General’s advice.

In a form of reflexivity, the acceptance that a crash out is now probable makes it more possible. European leaders appear to be on the same page as Rogers, which means they ought to get much more serious about contingency planning in the coming months.

As the odds of the worst sort of Brexit tick up, the EU has not budged one iota in its resolve that the only possible deal is the Withdrawal Agreement Theresa May negotiated.1 This is no surprise to anyone who has been paying attention. EU officials have spoken with one voice, for months, that what is too widely seen in the UK as May’s deal is the only deal on offer. As chief negotiator Michel Barnier underscored in a late May interview in the New York Review of Books (emphasis original):

If the UK wants to leave in an orderly manner, this treaty is the only option. If the choice is to leave without a deal—fine. If the choice is to stay in the EU—also fine. But if the choice is still to leave the EU in an orderly manner, this treaty is the only option. This is all that our legal constraints allow.

As we’ll discuss, despite the fulminating of the overwhelming front-runner in the Tory leadership contest, Boris Johnson,2As Sir Ivan delicately put it:

I fear I now expect that to be the syndrome we again face this autumn, with the near inevitability of a PM who would start with far lower levels of trustwith the EU than his predecessor progressively squandered. (I say “his” predecessor, because we already know the gender at least of the new PM.)

And as all the evidence and the bookies tell us is almost certainly going to be someone whose reputation with them would be of someone who had deliberately undermined the Agreement they had, over years, reached with his predecessor. But was now telling them, at best, that it was imperative that they reopen that deal and offer him a better one within days or weeks if there were to be any chance of ANY Withdrawal Agreement…

If, contrary to what is being said in orderto garner votes now, and in line with most EU expectations, he seeks an extension at the October European Council –recognising, as is completely obvious already,incidentally, that no new deal could under any conceivable circumstances, be negotiated and passed in the House by October 31–the 27 would, I suspect, be prepared to extend.

But only on the basis that a Withdrawal Agreement containing the backstop was not reopened.Andthat revisions to the Political Declaration and any texts elaborating on the process by which one might obviate the need for a backstop ever to come into force, or the steps by which it might be “phased out” after it had come into force, were the maximum on offer.

In other words, not a time limit, nor a unilateral exit mechanism, but some further explication of what is already in the Withdrawal Agreement and some warm words about the process to try and arrive an an alternative to the backstopover the next several years.

Seen from the other side of the Channel,there is simply no political upside whatever for the 27 to offer a new PM, particularly an avid Brexit campaigner and a populist with Trumpite attributes, the basis on which to say that he had delivered some fundamentally different and better deal.

Sir Ivan described why the EU would not be afraid of a crash-out: it would give them great advantage in negotiations. As Richard North recapped:

….a no-deal scenario should hold a few more terrors than it does. Not least of the reasons is that it hands control of the next phase of the Brexit process to the EU-27. It will “take back control” of the precise legal framework of the economic relationship, because it will legislate without consultation with us the economic framework under which we will have to operate….

Thus, Sir Ivan concludes, deliberately to walk out of the deepest internal market on the planet without a replacement, looser preferential deal in place is an act of economic lunacy…

No-deal, therefore, “is not a destination”. It is simply a volatile and uncertain transitional state of purgatory, in which you have forfeited all the leverage to the other side. You start with a blank slate of no preferential arrangements, and live, in the interim – probably for years – on a basis that the EU-27 legislate in their own interests, without you in the room and without consulting you politically.

Thus, much of our debate about “being ready” for a no-deal totally misses the point. It is the others who will largely dictate what we have to be ready for. Yes, says Sir Ivan, no-deal can and will be “managed” or controlled to a degree. And it would be. But by the EU.

But North also pointed out in a later post that the EU may not accommodating on an extension:

According to Irish premier Leo Varadkar, his fellow EU leaders are “enormously hostile” to the idea of another extension and may be minded to grant one only for another referendum or to give time for a general election. Certainly, there is no appetite for allowing more time for further negotiations, or for yet another round of indicative votes in the Westminster parliament.

Our NC panel of Brexit experts has kicked around the idea that a victorious Johnson would quickly call a general election, taking advantage of a presumed post-win peak popularity while seeking to kick Labour when it is weak. I discount this scenario. It is hard for Boris to out-Farage Farage; the Tories may lose enough votes to the Brexit party in some constituencies to throw seats to the LibDems or even (gah) the Greens. More generally, I don’t see how the Tories would gain seats, which makes a General Election look awfully risky even for an inveterate gambler like Johnson. And politicians of all strips could accuse Johnson for calling a General Election because he knows he can’t deliver on his election promise of wresting concessions from the EU, and/or is unwilling to honor the October 31 drop dead date.

Even so, Labour isn’t covering itself in glory. The major parties have so backed themselves into a corner that they can’t or won’t take any of the possible routes to a revocation of Article 50. In the Shadow Cabinet meeting earlier this week, Jeremy Corbyn resisted calls from within the party to support Remain in a new referendum. He stated:

We have committed to respecting the result of the referendum, and have strongly made the case for an alternative plan for Brexit as the only serious deal that could potentially command the support of the House. At Conference last year we passed our policy, the members’ policy. Over the past nine months, I have stuck faithfully to it.”

I have already made the case, on the media and in Dublin, that it is now right to demand that any deal is put to a public vote. That is in line with our conference policy which agreed a public vote would be an option. A ballot paper would need to contain real choices for both Leave and Remain voters. This will of course depend on Parliament. I want to hear your views, I will be hearing trade union views next week, and then I want to set out our views to the public.

Since Corbyn has said things that have been embarrassing on basic Brexit topics like what sort of deal he’d seek, I suppose the patter above should come as no surprise. The idea of making a confirmatory referendum (which should be a “yes or no” on a particular deal) somehow also allow voters to express second-referendum-ish views is quite a stretch.

No wonder UK voters are confused. It’s coming from the top.


1 The EU would accept the change of having so so-called “Irish backstop” apply only to Northern Ireland, an option informally called the “sea border”. But Conservatives have dismissed that out of hand as dividing the Union. It might also be possible to get the EU to reset the end of the transition period in light of a later Brexit and get stronger language that the EU is receptive to magical techno border solutions when they can be demonstrated to work.

2 The Tory leadership contest is down to overwhelming favorite Boris Johnson to Jeremy Hunt, who is less bloodyminded about leaving the EU on October 31 when the current extension expires, although Johnson has allowed himself some wriggle room on October 31 while maintaining he won’t need it.

Wags speculate that Johnson’s camp did a dirty and persuaded some MPs to throw votes to Hunt over his close competitor, Michael Gove. A ConservativeHome straw poll in April found Johnson would beat Hunt in a party contest by 61% to 33%.

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  1. vlade

    Now, the billion pound (well, more like billion-per-day) question is what exactly will happen in no-deal.

    I suspect it will be way less visible than was screamed about. So, for example, I suspect we may not see the massive queues around Dover, for a simple reason, that if people know there will be huge delays, they will not send perishables at all. Or if they know that they good will be rejected because they don’t comply with the EU rules (North gives a good one on this, which I had in the back of my mind, but never dug into. Good that can be legally sold in an EU country A, can be legally sold in an EU country B, w/o any other regulation, checking etc. A lot of UK’s SME’s relies on that, and have nil ability to do it otherwise), they will not send it.

    So, in fact, my prediction is that no queues around Dover, but way less traffic than usual.

    Which of course every Tory, Sun etc. will put forward as “we told you so”.

    It will be then interesting what will be happening. I suspect a lot of SMEs that directly or indirectly trade with the EU will go down. I suspect that the large carmakers will downsize. But these are Q1 2020 earliers impacts. The first real impact we may see is fresh veggies and fruit – assuming the govt won’t just drop any and all phytosanitary checks (which IMO is likely, as empty veggie shelves would kill most governments). Sterling will also likely tank, but I expect that to happen before Oct 31 – as we’ll know we’re in for a no-deal Brexit earlier than Oct 30 I suspect.

    I still give GE >50% chance before end of 2019. I see two routes:
    – some enough Tories defecting. I strongly suspect Grieve and Clarke will defect. IIRC, Tories + DUP currently have majority of 5. With two defections, that will be majority of 1. So it can get interesting (especially if there’s a by-election in Wales, which it might, where a Tory is under attack). But, TBH, I consider this the less likely scenario.

    – Johnson gets an electoral surge, and does a deal with Farage, allowing him a safe seat, potentially even promising some cabinet position. Farage would be, IMO, tempted by this, as it gives him something he wanted badly for years (he run for MP more often than Johnson for PM, seven times IIRC), can say he would use that to keep tabs on the govt re Brexit ideological purity. It would also keep Farage in politics, as I’d say come next elections in 2022, BP is IMO unlikely to be able to do well there (except if the UK revokes, which at the moment seems extremely unlikely).

    If Johnson can’t get a deal with Farage, then I believe GE less likely.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      I suspect you are right about the Dover issue – nobody sensible will transit anything for a week either side of a no-deal. Spoilables like dairy will be prioritised, vegetables will have to wait. But I think a possible scenario is that everyone just assumes ‘something will turn up’ and a no-deal doesn’t happen, and then they are caught on the hop.

      I think an election is more likely than not. My sense from scanning articles is that to a certain extent its already baked in – its one reason why MP’s wanted Johnson, its because they sense he’s the only one that could buy them another few years. The people around him – and probably Johnson himself – know that he will have to sell someone out early on and this could destroy his premiership before he even starts. And he has the perfect excuse – if the numbers don’t stack up for his election as PM by Parliament, they he will say he has to go to the country. Its also a distraction from the inevitable embarrassments he’ll face in September/October when its clear he can’t deliver anything from Brussels.

      Farage is an epic opportunist, I’m pretty sure he would leap at the chance of a deal with Johnson. Maybe even Lord Farage of Millwall or something if he doesn’t fancy losing another grab at a seat in the Commons. The only possible reason Farage had for dumping the UKIP and forming his new party was to get rid of the toxicity surrounding them and to give him a chance for a real power grab. And remember, after the UK leaves the Parliament, he’s unemployed, his nice gravy train has been snatched away.

      The polls so far are remarkably favourable for the Tories (with the proviso that national polls in the UK often aren’t good at predicting seat results, you need more granularity for that). They will never have a better opportunity to regain a majority and cut down Corbyn. If those polls stay steady over the summer I’m pretty certain they’ll go for an election – Johnson and his people are gamblers and bullshitters by nature, it would appeal to their instincts, in a way it wouldn’t appeal to politicians who aspire to long, steady careers.

        1. Clive

          But don’t forget that May fought what has to have been one of the worst election campaigns since Labour’s epic disaster movie 1983 suicide note. It really did have it all. Fracking. A badly communicated dementia tax. More faffing about with the NHS. Plus May had all the appeal, charm and charisma of Freddie Krueger at a prom night.

          Boris Johnson has, erm, captured the zeitgeist and is adept at reading the mood of the nation in a way which May could never do. NOT, I add in big capital letter, that this is A Good Thing. Just the opposite. But a county gets the politicians it deserves, unfortunately.

          Boris Johnson would walk it. You can take that to the bank.

          1. John A

            “The first real impact we may see is fresh veggies and fruit”

            Well, a couple of Januaries ago, there was some weather problem in Spain that meant a shortage of courgettes (zuchini) in English supermarkets. Cue absolute hysteria amongst the population wailing ‘what can we eat?’, when in actual fact, there were plenty of traditional English winter vegetables, such as cabbage, sprouts, carrots etc., readily available.
            Sadly, English shoppers are hooked on being able to buy any veg/fruit at any time of year. The courgette hysteria reached panic level, if that is the prospect for every winter to come, could there be riots?

        2. vlade

          Aside from Clive’s comments:

          I’m willing to bet you a lunch at Bleeding Hearth that a large number of remain voters who voted Labour in 2017 will not do in any elections that would occur this year.

          LD was for all purposes dead in 2017. LD members should be sending Labour thank-you notes, as they single-handedly revived it.

          If BP and Tories will run against each other, GE would be a massive toss up, as no-one would know how a four-ish (I assume LD would do a pact with Greens) way split would work.

          If BP and Tories do a pact, Labour is a toast (Peterborough would turn into a safe BP/Tory district for example), unless it would, by some magic, do a pact with LD. Highly unlikely IMO.

          And saying “vote LD, get Farage” would not help, as for a lot of remainers Corbyn is now just one step removed from Farage, as far as Brexit goes.

          If they believe there will be a Brexit no matter whether they vote LD or Labour, and that Brexit is going to be a hard one, voting LD makes sense even if (or especially so) it keeps Corbyn from power, as there’s no chance he would survive a second electoral defeat in GE (well, Labour might split, but…), making Labour votable-for them again.

          1. larry

            Do you mean the Bleeding Heart Restaurant in Farringdon where you have to book a table 3 months in advance?

    2. flora

      Mark Carney, BoE governor, says in event of no-deal Brexit all UK exports to EU will be hit with tariffs, per WTO rules. I think Carney has a better idea about what’s ahead re: no-deal Brexit than Johnson.

  2. Anonymous 2

    Thank you Yves. Excellent coverage as always.

    Interestingly, Johnson was reportedly overheard after the end of the second televised debate indicating that he agreed with the other contestants on ‘dates ‘. This presumably means that (as so often ) his private (real? ) position differs from his public one and that maybe he is not as wedded to a departure date of end October as he is publicly claiming. As well as being notoriously dishonest, he is a slippery customer. Of course he will have to give the EU 27 some real meat if he were to ask for another extension.

  3. Frenchguy

    Slight (ok, not so slight) point: are we sure Boris will become PM ? I’m not sure how it works but a new PM must command the confidence of the House as I understand. Are we sure Boris will have it ? More importantly, will the Palace be certain of it ? If someone knows the technicalities, I’m sure it would be helpful to know them.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      That is a fair point I saw mentioned somewhere…..and failed to incorporate. But the Tories have refused to pull the house down. Party loyalty is very strong. If Tories were to defect (it would not take many), I think it would weaken the Tory push in a GE.

      And despite vlade’s and PK’s confidence about how the Tories would fare in a GE….May made exactly the same calculus about Labour weakness and Corbyn turned it around. He’s a terrible ongoing leader but a great campaigner.

      Plus a GE necessitates an extension. The party members who are hell bent for Brexit will be outraged that they were betrayed. With pro-Brexit positions having become radicalized, blowing off October 31 risks having Conservative stalwarts stay home. If Farage were not leashed and collared, he’d make much of the Tories prioritizing party gains over delivering on the campaign promises just made to get Brexit done.

      We also have the procedural feature that the House has 14 calendar days in which to reverse itself and vote confidence in the PM. I could see a combo of Johnson trying to make concessions to Tory rebels plus Tory party members making the political equivalent of death threats against the defectors.

      1. vlade

        GE would not necessaitate an extension. If the govt decides to call the extension, they can call back the parliament from the recess in August, and have the elections by October – last took two months to organise.

        I have no confidence how Tories would fare in elections TBH. But if Tories and BP managed to do a deal, they would, IMO, have a stronger hand than a currently split Labour. For example, on the Peterborough (currently Labour), they would take it from Labour by a country mile, even if LD and Labour worked together.

        It is true that Labour got 15 points jump in 2017 from pre-election polls to the result, but let’s also remember that: it was campaining against May; LD was in clinical death; Labour’s constructive ambiguity still convinced a non-trivial amount of Remainers.

        None of this is true anymore, and Labour has some control only on one of those (what it will do about it Brexit stance). Also, GE before October would very certainly be taken as a Brexit referendum, not matter whether Labour wished it otherwise – and I suspect that would not be good for Labour.

        The 14 days applies only in no-confidence vote (my option one). If Johnson’s strategists decide to call for the vote, then the House dissolves itself (but it needs 2/3rds of the vote, not just a simple majority) and no 14 days applies. Same as in 2017 with May.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Huh? Parliament goes on holiday after July 25 through Sept 3. The election results are to be announced “the week of” July 22. No one will want to campaign in August even if the results of the contest were announced, say, July 23. Boris would have to immediately push for a GE when he’s barely been in office.

          Theresa May had to form a cabinet and get its consent before announcing her GE.

          Plus the Government is overdue for a Queens Speech, another source of delay.

      2. Redlife2017

        I will agree to disagree that Corbyn is a “terrible ongoing leader”. His biggest problem is that he doesn’t have good (or any from what I can tell) “assassins” going quietly around to take care of business. That’s a basic of good leadership which he needs to get his head around. Arms-length viciousness would be a welcome development. That’s why he has a tendency to look like he’s bouncing from one crisis to another (besides government funded smearing campaigns, MSM smears, etc.), he doesn’t have a good team of silent killers and then a team who’s job is to stomp on people’s balls. Ya need both and from what I can tell, he doesn’t have either.

        But you are totally right that he is an amazing campaigner – he’s honed that for the past 40 years and it shows. He is amazing to listen to.

        1. vlade

          So are Johnson and Farage. Unfortunately. If those two pair, they are likely to have Corbyn for breakfast IMO, if for nothign else, because they don’t bother themselves with triffles like reality.

        2. Yves Smith Post author

          Come on. Against the worst PM in modern history, Labour flailed and fell in the polls. Johnson is widely loathed and distrusted, yet he’s seen as able to strike a crippling blow against Labour if elected. That would be impossible if Corbyn had been functioning adequately.

          The proof is in how the party is doing. Corbyn has failed to come up with a coherent position on the most important issue facing him, Brexit, and has a campaign platform that utterly fails to acknowledge the need to contend with that.

          1. Synoia

            It’s not clear there is a coherent position on Brext to be had. May certainly didn’t find one, Parliament voted “Nay” on all the options, and the experts (or pundits) keen proposing ideas the EU has stated are not possible.

            In earlier times this probably would have been fodder for another Civil War.

            That does not excuse Corbyn. Instead of choosing a Brexit position, he appears to place his highest value on being the “Leader of the Labor,” apparently putting self interest first, and so ended up being useless.

            Brexit is a bit like WW I. Incompetent leadership,lots of useless action, no progress, and millions harmed.

    2. vlade

      There’s no formal requirement for the Parliament to Ok his government. In some systems, the Parliament must explicitly ok the government. In the UK, not so. All he needs is for May to go to the Queen and tell her that she (May) believes Johnson will have the majority. I don’t think there’s even a good mechanism for the Queen to tell her “go and test it”. The only good mechanism here is if Corbyn manages to put something in, but I very much doubt they would do so before the recess, it’s just too risky and unknown (so may give Johnson an easy win). Well, on the other side, Labour strategically messed up a number of issues in the Parliament already (anyone remember May’s no-confidence vote?), so you can never rule it out.

      1. Frenchguy

        My instinct would be to agree with you and Yves that given how strong party loyalty has been within the Tories, there might be not much doubt that Boris will be PM, at least at the start…

        Still, I’ve read here and there that the Palace was very uncomfortable about being put in the situation to nominate someone that might not have a clear majority. If May asks formally, the Queen would be hard pressed to say no but she might pass the message that she would prefer May not to ask before being sure of Boris’ support in the House. I’m really speculating here but it’s something to keep in mind I think.

        1. shtove

          It’s all so unprecedented. Another factor is that May retains the authority to revoke until she surrenders her seal of office. That could lead to the mother of all injunction battles.

      2. David

        I don’t think that there’s much doubt that Johnson will be asked to become PM and form a government if he comes out on top. That’s how the system has always worked. But the key phrase is “asked to”, because we are not in the usual situation (eg the Thatcher/Major transition), where the new PM simply takes over an assured majority. It’s theoretically possible (though I think this has never happened) that Johnson could simply be unable to put a government together, either because Tory MPs would refuse to serve (there are something like 80-100 post to be filled, depending on how you count them) or because they made it clear that they would abstain in the first vote of confidence. That would theoretically open the way for somebody else.
        I also think the chances of a GE are quite high, but not because it’s Johnson’s first choice, necessarily. He might go to the country in a belief that in a GE a lot of the votes lost to Farage will come back to the Tories. That might not do much for his majority but it would make the situation easier to manage. But of course the risk is that there’ll be a reverse-1983, when the Liberals and the SDP won few seats but drained support from Labour giving the Tories a landslide victory. But a GE may happen anyway. If Boris can’t form a government (and where are the DUP these days?) then the FTPA kicks in, and may produce a GE after the statutory period. Likewise, an unstable Johnson government may lose the first vote of confidence, and there might be a GE anyway. In either circumstance, it would probably be in Johnson’s best interests to pre-empt defeat and ask the Queen to dissolve parliament, which she would do. He would want to avoid (if he is old enough to remember it) Callaghan’s disastrous decision to soldier on into 1979, only to be brought down at the worst possible time.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          Not just Callaghan, I remember thinking at the time that Gordon Brown was mad not to go for a snap election when he took over from Blair. Even in those days before I had NC to inform me, it seemed obvious to me that the boom had passed its peak and the scheduled election would be in the teeth of a significant downturn (I’d no idea it would be as bad as it was). I believe history would be very different if he had done so and won (which I think he would have) – a competent Chancellor (Darling) in charge of recovery who was not wedded to austerity could have changed so much.

          And I thought that May should have gone for an election as soon as she was selected – once again, it seemed obvious to me that the only way for her was down once Brexit reality set in. I think it was the delay that killed her – you can justify a snap election when there has been a change in circumstance (i.e. new PM), but once you wait a few months and people start to get used to you, it looks like opportunism, or indecision.

          I know – and I accept Yves points – that the timing is excruciating and would require all sorts of constitutional and administrative arm wrestling to make it happen before the end of October. But if I was a Johnson advisor, I would be pushing hard to strike while the iron is hot so long as a private deal with Farage can be made.

    3. PlutoniumKun

      On that point, while the DUP dislike and distrust Boris, they will not withdraw support for him, even if he seeks a time extension on Brexit, they fear an election even more – an election would most likely take away all their leverage and they are likely to lose seats to the Alliance Party in Northern Ireland, who are strong Remainers.

      1. David

        You’ve answered my question from an earlier comment which is stuck in moderation! Do you think they’ll simply vote with Boris, or will they have a separate set of objectives, especially post-Brexit. And are these likely to be acceptable to the Tories?

        1. PlutoniumKun

          My understanding is that the DUP strongly favour Hunt, because of his strong Christian background and willingness to talk about restricting abortion and so on. They see Johnson as far too ‘Churchilian’, which in Loyalist terms means someone who talks a lot about the Union, but would sell out NI without a second thought if it was in Britains (read ‘Englands’) interest.

          The DUP are now caught in an electoral bind. NI elections are far more difficult to call because so many voters vote strategically. The success of Alliance in the local elections and Europe is a big problem for the DUP, because in at least 3 constituencies they could easily take a seat from the DUP even if the DUP vote didn’t drop – all that has to happen is that nationalists see that Alliance can win, and they’ll vote for them. This could reduce the DUP from 10 to 7 seats, with Sinn Fein perhaps on 6 and the Alliance on 4, possibly 5 – this could happen even without a significant drop in their support. This would mean that whatever the outcome in the rest of the UK, they would lose all their leverage. In short, they will do whatever it takes to avoid an election, which no doubt Johnson is fully aware of. The only exception is if Johnson tries to resurrect the Irish Sea border as a way around the backstop.

          So the DUP will, whatever they say, go along with what Johnson wants, so long as it stops an election. One other consideration – its been said that the DUP have finally started to see clearly what a strategic error it was for them to hang with the Ultras. A no-deal will be catastrophic for the NI economy, and many of their supporters will blame them. Their ideal situation is a soft exit which still allows them to scream ‘betrayal’, that’s their ‘cake and eat it’ perfect scenario.

        2. PlutoniumKun

          I forgot to add, that apart from the usual financial ‘aid’ requests, the other big demand for the DUP will be on keeping abortion restrictions in NI. This is another reason they don’t trust Johnson.

  4. efschumacher

    Given the latest turn of events it is not so much Sleepwalking as it is Slouching Towards Gomorrah.

  5. dearieme

    I had a lot of hope for Change UK. I have no idea where a CUK fan like me can throw his support behind now.

    1. Synoia

      Go and buy a pint or two, with friends. Hug the kids and spouse.

      Go to Trafalgar Square and the Galleries. Reflect on why Nelson’s monument looks down on everybody, including Parliament and the Crown.

  6. skippy

    Ouch …. this whole thing reads like a game theory mad man prisoner dilemma …. aka TINA[.]

  7. Which is worse - bankers or terrorists

    Question for the UK-based commentariat. What would the Tories reaction be if Scotland and Northern Ireland proposed to leave the UK in the current political environment?

    1. Clive

      The U.K. government can effectively block a Scottish independence vote. And the polls are against it. But it is always on the table.

      Northern Ireland can request one (a so-called “Border Poll”) of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland who can give the go-ahead if there is grounds for thinking that a United Ireland was the will of the people in the province. This is a right guaranteed under the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement. However, it is a judgment call for the minister. Given that neither nationalists or loyalists can even form a power-sharing (devolved) administration (for reasons that are too complicated to go into here, but aren’t likely to be resolved in the near-term), the notion that the north is ready to be successfully integrated into the Republic is fanciful. And even if it was decided to do it tomorrow, it is a multi-year programme to execute reunification. I’d say five years minimum, ten years would be better. Even the Republic has suggested caution is needed.

      That said, both of these lands have every right to have the nationhood and government structures they wish. These questions are part influenced by Brexit, might be accelerating because of Brexit, but they aren’t a direct result of Brexit.

    2. PlutoniumKun

      I think the twitter link embedded in the article says what the Tory grassroots think – they’d happily ditch Scotland and NI in a heartbeat if it won them Brexit.

      Although one would think that senior members would be much less happy at being written into the history books as the leaders who lost the Union.

    3. ChrisPacific

      The small problem for Scotland is that if they were to (a) gain independence and (b) apply to rejoin the EU, they would have a border problem to address similar to the one in NI for Brexit. I’m not sure whether they have the same integration issues to deal with, but I’d assume they do given how long Scotland and England have been a single political unit. In this case it would be entirely on Scotland to sort it out, with the EU likely to require proper border controls as a condition of entry, and the UK would have little incentive to play along and make things easy for them.

      (In fact they would have a border problem regardless, but they’d have a lot more latitude in dealing with it if they weren’t required to enforce EU rules).

      So while it might be tempting for Scotland to seek independence given the mess that no-deal Brexit would likely be in the UK, it’s unlikely that it would solve any of their problems even if they succeeded.

      1. Nigel Goddard

        You are looking at Scottish independence from a perspective too focussed on economics. The major opportunity independence would provide for Scotland is that we could focus on our problems rather than the ones that Westminster creates for us. In particular we could ditch austerity, develop our renewables potential, follow a climate-positive energy policy, welcome immigrants, and be a normal small European nation.

        1. ChrisPacific

          True, my last sentence was too broad, and the benefits of being unshackled from Westminster become more obvious by the day. It’s just that, absent an answer to the border problem, it would very likely need to happen as a non-EU country.

          That said it’s likely that the UK will be in that position anyway quite soon, so there could be nothing much to lose on that front.

  8. larry

    Clarke and Grieve have both said, exhibiting a serious mien, that they would bring down the government should Johnson be leading it and mess it up. It would appear that they consider him to be a potentially serious danger to either the party or the country or both. Chris Grey’s post today is worth checking out — Tantric Brexit.

    Saunders, a historian, has an interesting take on the machinations of the Tory leadership nonsense. And North contends that while he may be a historian, he hasn’t taken a course in logic. This has to do with the constitutional position of the PM. Saunders’ article on this topic is in the New Statesman entitled Why party members should never be able to elect Prime Ministers (20 June), North’s criticism of this is in his Elections Galore? (21 June). Re the election of a PM vs what is now being referred to as a ‘coronation’, I don’t know what the legal or constitutional position is. It would benice if someone knows.

    1. skippy

      Most of these so called politicians are just face people for various forces and the funding that they represent and the multifaceted interspace that framework of contractual frame works has to offer.

      1. larry

        Not these two. They can truly be viewed as being independent.

        As for the constitutional position of the PM, I remain uncertain.

        1. Summer

          They don’t have to be an elected official to do the bidding of some elite faction.
          In times of a crisis of legitimacy for governments, it may make the more effective in carrying out orders.

    2. disillusionized

      North is pointing out that a president is a head of state, not government.
      Saunders want a directly elected president, that’s head of gov.
      North wants a directly elected PM – North is technically correct, but to my knowledge there isn’t a directly elected pm anywhere in the world.
      In either case what they want is a directly elected head of government.

  9. SOMK

    Not sure how solid this is, but saw this interesting seat projection based on most recent yougov polling

    Has labour losing 68 seats , Lib Dems gaining 111and SNP gaining 16

    Meanwhile Brexit go from 0 to 141 and the Tories loose 202.

    So taking these numbers seriously, as it stands it looks it would be a potential Lib Dem/SNP/Lab coalition for remain/ref 2 (you’d wonder though about to what degree the SNP would insist on indy-ref 2 in a hypothetical coalition), with Labour (194) being by far the biggest party (53 seats larger than Brexit) even though they are polling fourth! It would be highly amusing if the conservative unwillingness to reform first past the post (which has historically given them more bang per vote than rivals) ended up biting them in the backside to such a degree!

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Except Corbyn still isn’t coming out for Remain because too many Labour MPs come from constituencies in the North and East that voted Leave.

    2. dcblogger

      I am surprised that the UK Greens are not doing better. It would not surprise if, in the aftermath of Brexit, they became the ruling party.

  10. rd

    Unfortunately, we seem to be in one of those occasional periods of global lunacy where world leaders live in their own fantasyland while refusing to believe that anything bad can happen. In the past century or so, this has resulted in WW I, WW II, and the Iraq War with its resultant regional instability. Climate change, species extinction due to a multitude of reasons, income/wealth inequality, and financial sector deregulation are also in there, although slower moving.

    The US appears to be heading to an intensely stupid and unnecessary conflict with Iran.

    The price paid for deluded leadership can be very high.

  11. Winston Smith

    Seems like Blighty is teetering on the edge of an abyss of chaos and good ol Boris is ready to give it a good shove

  12. Synoia

    “If Johnson can’t get a deal with Farage, then I believe GE less likely.”

    Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer?

    Perhaps May should have given Farage a Job. Manager of Cabinet Office for Brexit or a Minister, if one can be minister without being an MP.

    Then step back and blame him for everything.

  13. David

    It’s a sad fact about the British political system that it’s incapable of really focusing on more than one issue at a time. Here it has at least three: Brexit, the Tory leadership contest and the future of the British political system as a whole. Whatever we may think, for those in the system, the exciting , glamorous game at the moment is all about Boris or not Boris. Anybody can understand how it works, and everyone in politics sympathises with the fundamental pursuit of power and status. That’s why they joined. Yes, there are other issues, but, y’know, we’ll get round to the boring stuff afterwards. We’ll have, oh, weeks at least to figure out what to do about Brexit.

  14. RBHoughton

    The key thing about Brexit to my simple mind is that for decades the Brits, Germans and Dutch have united to direct EU policies. Now UK is leaving, the Dutch and Germans will not have the votes to swing policy which will then pass to France and the Mediterranean countries. This will have some foreseeable influence in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar.

    It will also impact American policy towards Europe. I recently heard that the only countries paying their dues to NATO are UK, Greece (unavoidably as ECB controls Greek money) and Estonia. With UK out, the NATO fig leaf over US Imperialism blows away – what then?

  15. rtah100

    The powers that be are trying to stop Boris. They are trying to smear him on the home front: a confessed philanderer and now a wife-beater….

    It is hard to tell if these are independently cross neighbours, fed up with Special Branch and paparazzi on the doorstep, or have been put up to the job (or are MI5 renting a flat…).

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