Brexit: Will Boris or Won’t He?

ConservativeHome declared yesterday that their survey of Tory Party members finds that Boris Johnson has already won the leadership contest. He’s also embraced the proud UK leadership practice of promoting Brexit unicorns. A few examples:

The EU will blink with him when it didn’t with Theresa May because Johnson serious about being willing to exit, declaring the odds of no deal as “a million to one”.

The EU will give the UK what Johnson’s allies call a standstill, as in a transition period, just because the UK needs one. The UK has asked and has been firmly told no, that the only way to get a transition period is to approve the Withdrawal Agreement.

The cost of a crash out is “vanishingly inexpensive if you prepare”

As the campaign has progressed, Johnson has become firmer in his commitment to delivering on October 31. This week on BBC Talk Radio, he said:

So we are getting ready to come out on October the 31st. Come what may . . . Do or die. Come what may.

However, BoJo being BoJo means he’s not necessarily committed to anything.

The Financial Times contends tonight that Johnson didn’t spend all these years scheming to become Prime Minister to preside over a crisis, even though the article starts by depicting Johnson as worried about the wrath of Tory Party members if he fails to deliver their cherished Brexit. Johnson has also been saying how much he wants to stay friends with the EU even as he is insisting the divorce is on.

However, the pink paper argues that what Johnson wants is an orderly exit and he seems to be pinning his hopes on getting enough changes to May’s deal to get Parliament to swallow it. Recall that even some of the Ultras were getting a bit wobbly in early 2019. But the Financial Times gives the impression the EU might relent, when it has spoken with one voice that the Withdrawal Agreement that May negotiated is the only deal on offer.

Having said that, there is one change the EU would accept, which would be to have what has informally been called a “sea border,” meaning having Northern Ireland effectively stay in the EU as far as trade matters were concerned (where you draw the jurisdictional lines would be thorny). But that’s been seen as impossible due to the opposition of the DUP, the Government’s minority partner.

So the best indicator on what the incoming Prime Minister intends will be his actions.

The Guardian suggested yesterday that Johnson would need to launch a European tour, pronto, to persuade leaders to accept his point of view and specifically, to allow him to do what they’ve dismissed repeatedly, which is to cherry pick the Withdrawal Agreement. It’s a no-brainer that the EU won’t relent (and there is the interesting question of how long it will take Johnson to get that message).

But Johnson needs to put up a good show, particularly since the UK press obligingly ran all sorts of ridiculous “a deal is nigh” stories leaked by No. 10 in May’s day that proved to be hogwash. Whether Boris believes his own sales talk or not, he needs the appearance of momentum.

Having said that, Johnson is widely disliked in the EU, and some are not trying hard to hide their antipathy. That could make it difficult for Johnson to sell the notion that his charm offensive might work. For instance, from the Telegraph:

Ursula von der Leyen, the woman nominated as the new president of the European Commission, has warned the next prime minister of Britain over the “tone and attitude” of Brexit. Mrs von der Leyen said that a courteous Brexit was vital because it would set the template for the future UK-EU relationship in what will be widely interpreted as a swipe at Brexiteers such as Boris Johnson, the favourite to succeed Theresa May. In her first public words on Brexit since her nomination by EU leaders after a July 2 summit, she said, “We all know that we want you to Remain but I know how facts are. I hope for a good development. But in case we’re going to have a Brexit, I’m convinced it is crucial how the tone and attitude is with which Brexit happens because Brexit is not the end of something, Brexit is the beginning of future relations.” Brussels has still not forgiven Mr Johnson for comparing the EU to Nazi Germany or likening the Brexit negotiations to Third Reich “punishment beatings”. Jeremy Hunt, the other Tory leadership contender, was forced to apologise after likening the EU to a Soviet gulag.

Von der Leyen happens to be right: unless the UK revokes Article 50, it will be negotiating Brexit for years, even in the event of a crash out, because it will need a new trade and services deal and those take a great deal of time to negotiate. The comparatively clean EU-Canada pact took seven years. Any UK agreement will have a significant services component, and services deals are more tortuous than trade deals.

A second indicator will be how the new Government deals with Parliament. I have to confess I’ve been simultaneously amused and disappointed by the uproar over the idea that the Government might prorogue Parliament so as to force a crash out. What about default don’t you understand?1

The reality is that Parliament would have to push a car uphill to force a Prime Minister to seek an extension or revoke Article 50. It would take legislation; mere motions won’t cut it.

And all you have to do is look at the calendar. Under a normal schedule, the Commons is barely in session before the EU Council meeting of October 17-18. It returns from summer recess on September 3, and historically is in session only a week before going on a “conference” recess for three weeks, which would therefore go until early October.

Now the EU Council would probably obligingly as before ready itself for an emergency session right before the October 31 drop dead date. Even so, under a normal schedule, Parliament would be sitting for only four weeks or so while the Government is up to its Brexit machinations. Of course, it does not take much time to put a motion of no confidence, but anything more complicated would seem to be a tall order in this short time period. Look at how much effort it took to pass mere handwaving motions during May’s tenure (although Parliament did eventually manage to wrest control of the Brexit business scheduling from her).

And the Government controls Parliamentary time. Readers please pipe up, but I assume this also implies that it would be hard or impossible for Parliament, as opposed to the Government, to keep itself in session during its normal recess periods.

So having Parliament all worked up about the possibility of being prorogued seems like a very useful diversion. Moreover, the fact that all Brexit nemesis Dominic Grieve was able to do was to raise the bar for cashiering Parliament, by requiring fortnightly updates on Northern Ireland.

One wild card is that the rebel Tories really might man up (Johnson waved off claims that there were 30 of them) and/or the Ultras might lose their nerve. Chris Grey thinks the latter might be taking place:

It is notable – given he is not only pro-Brexit but also fiercely Atlanticist – that Liam Fox has recently become critical of no-deal Brexit, and has also this week been highly supportive of Darroch. He has thus been the target of considerable criticism from the hardliners such as Steve Baker. I also notice that Michael Gove seems rather silent since dropping out of the leadership contest during which he was slated for not being a real Brexiter – despite his leading role in the Leave campaign.

These are only straws in the wind – and no high profile Brexiter has yet recanted – but it occurs to me that some, at least, are beginning to see the dangers of reaping the whirlwind of the wind they have sown.

The Financial Times also gave a new angle on why a crash out would be bad: October is a worse time than March:

A leaked memo prepared by [Brexit secretary] Mr [Steve] Barclay in May suggested it would take six to eight months of engagement with the pharmaceutical industry — well beyond the Halloween deadline — “to ensure adequate arrangements are in place to build stockpiles of medicines by October 31”. It estimated four to five months alone would be needed to prepare traders for new red tape at the border….

In practical terms stockpiling goods in warehouses was just about manageable in March but it will be much more difficult in the autumn, when companies are already building up for the Christmas shopping season, Black Friday sales and potential weather disruption.

According to Savills, the property agency, the estimated vacancy rate for warehouses of more than 100,000 square feet nationwide in the second quarter of the year is 6.8 per cent. In the “inner M25” Greater London area the vacancy rate has fallen to just 2.2 per cent. Mike Coupe, chief executive of Sainsbury’s, says the October 31 deadline is “not far off the worst day possible” for retailers.

Politicians can become victims of their personal mythology. And whether he realizes it or not, the tight time table in combination with his gung-ho messaging means Johnson has tied himself on the Brexit train track.

1 This is what triggered me, a quote from Grieve in the Guardian:

Obviously, if a prime minister can persuade the House of Commons that a no-deal Brexit is a good idea, he’s fully within his rights to do it. But attempts to ratchet no-deal through, against the majority wishes of the House of Commons, should not happen and, in my view, we can put in place the necessary provisions to make sure it doesn’t.

Ahem, Parliament already voted for Brexit in the form of authorizing the Prime Minister to send in the Article 50 notice. The Institute of Government describes how Parliament can’t block a PM set on no deal from going down that path, absent a successful vote of no confidence (and even then, it points out the Prime Minister would need to ask for an extension, which a bloody-minded PM might refuse to do). For instance:

But if a new prime minister is set on no deal, then they have no need for further ‘meaningful votes’. That denies MPs an opportunity to vote to take control of the timetable again.

And the no deal provision in the EU Withdrawal Act 2018 – which would have required the Government to hold a vote in the Commons if no agreement had been reached with the EU by 21 January – has long expired.

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  1. SW94

    “The government controls Parliamentary time”. This is a fairly recent innovation- I think from around 1900, when the HoC surrendered its previous control in the interests of orderly business. I agree on the face of it there isn’t an established mechanism by which it can regain that control, but Parliamentary procedures are conventions not laws.

    The question therefore is whether that surrender is irreversible. The one firm constitutional principle that we have- the supremacy of Parliament- suggests that it isn’t. Quite how is unclear, but Bercow has shown himself to be an innovator.

    Much is unclear, but you don’t make it less unclear by elevating conventional wisdoms to the status of holy writ.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I suggest you get on top of relevant facts before lecturing.

      We saw how much success Parliament had in wresting control from May. It did an appallingly poor job despite May suffering multiple massive failures, an unprecedented show of a fatally wounded leader nevertheless continuing to march forward (budget voted down, huge repeated defeats of her Withdrawal Act, the censure) for an astonishingly long period of time despite ongoing Parliamentary maneuvers by both major parties to thwart her. And in the end, it was the Tories, not Parliament, that forced her to resign.

      Similarly, the only reason Parliament got to vote on the Withdrawal Act was as a result of a High Court ruling, that Parliament got to weigh in because it affected citizen’s rights. Otherwise the deal would not have fallen in their purview.

      So the facts don’t comport with your assertion. “Parliament is sovereign” means not much in a system in which Parliament vests so much power in the Government. Start with how it is well nigh impossible for a private bill to pass. All it takes is a single objection to kill one and there’s a Tory MP that does that as a matter of course.

      And more specifically with respect to Brexit, as the linked Institute of Government article explains long form (and it appears you didn’t bother to read it), Parliament can’t prevent a determined PM from crashing out. The post explains why Johnson likely doesn’t want one despite his brave talk, but he may have so committed himself to that path that he will find it hard to steer out.

      In particular, it is the heads of state, not Parliament, which deals with the EU Council. Only the Prime Minister can ask for an extension or revoke an Article 50 notice.

      1. vlade

        Well, it’s less of a govt vs. parliament business, than “there’s no majority for anything” business.

        The Parliament could take back control, if it had majority. Historically, it didn’t need to as govt=parliament majority, so no issues there. For example, the private bill stuff is parliamnetary procedure, which is, in theory, easier to modify than a law. Of course, the unintended consequences could be fun.

        That said, even so the only real way for the MPs to stop no-deal is to no-confidence Johnson, then get in a new PM who will revoke. But even that is fraught with peril:
        – The new PM gets by custom recommended by the old PM. There’s nothing stopping Johnson recommending himself again, we saw that he can happily ignore custom (like having a guaranteed support in the Parliament) before. Queen could probably ignore it (and appoint a different PM), but there’s only 14 calendar days before it turns into election situation, so delaying tactics and sowing confusion could create havoc and invalidate this tactics anyways.
        – even if the MPs were able to get togeher a majority, who would be the willing transitory PM? It’s inconcievable it would be Corbyn, but unless say they agreed to appoint Clarke (one of the most likely Tory rebels, and he claims he will not stand for an MP anymore), I can’t see how they could easily (or at all) agree on someone.
        – it would still require an election after that, it’s inconcievable that this would not do so. Imagine if the Brexiters won that one, and triggered A50 again.. That would be fun!

        1. Clive

          Yes, this is (your last point) the thing that, if Remain does even indeed comprehend it, it shows little sign of appreciating its implications.

          Let’s say for the sake of argument that Article 50 somehow got pulled. Okay, we’re not in Kansas any more. But, oh, gosh, has Leave simply disappeared as a political force or, indeed, a social / societal influence? The Brexit Party is polling 30%+ in real, actual public votes (not just opinion polling). It’s not going to simply say, blimey, how awful, they’ve yanked Article 50, that was all good clean honest fun while it lasted, but it’s over now, it’s where the water flows, it’s where the wind blows. Or something. No — it’s going to keep dragging itself around forever and a day until it either wins, as a concept, or is utterly defeated.

          Getting a 50% + 1 vote for Remain isn’t going to settle the argument. Remain will need to, consistently, for several years, get Remain-supporting political parties to achieve a minimum of 55-60% shares of the vote, 60+% preferably. Remain seems unable to voice its arguments with sufficient conviction to do this.

          Na gonna happen. Leave just needs to get lucky in a parliamentary election to kick the whole thing off again. Why would it quit, just over a “minor” setback, like Article 50’s current triggering biting the dust.

          1. vlade

            Yep. If anything, it would re-energise the Leave. It may not cause 1m marches in London, as a non-trivial part of the Leave vote was too old for that, but those are the people who go more often to elections than the 18+ ones.

            As you say, Leave has to get lucky once, Remain has to keep sharp for a long time, and given how lukewarm it was in the first place, I have my doubts.

          2. PKMKII

            That is something I’ve noticed with Remainers, an assumption that if A50 gets revoked that Leave will respond like an admonished child apologizing to its parents for kicking a ball through the neighbor’s geraniums. They can’t process this as an ideological fight because they want to keep all politics in an end-of-history context and so any disturbance of the hegemony is self-evidently bad to them. It doesn’t compute that Leave is operating outside of that paradigm.

      2. David

        We’ve always insisted here on pointing out that “no deal” is not a policy, or an option to select, but rather the default effect of not having negotiated a Withdrawal Agreement with the EU as required under Art 50 before the clock (as modified) runs out. But, I hear you say, there is a WA, and what’s more it was signed by the British government. That’s the “deal”, even if some MPs seem to think it covers the future relationship with the EU, not just the mechanics of leaving. Because of special circumstances mentioned by Yves, the Supreme Court decided that Parliament had a role, and had to pass legislation to make the WA effective. “No deal” therefore means that there isn’t a majority for the WA in Parliament, not that no deal has been negotiated. The problem is, as vlade points out, that there’s no majority for anything else either. I don’t think a large part of the British media/political class understands these elementary facts.
        All (!) Johnson has to do to leave by 31 October is to table the legislation to implement the WA again. If Parliament is really set against “no deal,” then it passes the necessary legislation. The problem is that most of the British political class is living in a fantasy world, where a signed agreement can be reopened and played with, until the right mix is found.
        So as we’ve said many times, “no-deal” is not something you can “stop.” For that reason, most of the clever wheezes I’ve read about don’t really stop no-deal, they are in effect threats of reprisals which are intended to make the price of no-deal prohibitively high. That may or may not work. The other strand in this is the level of cynicism of which Johnson is capable. Once he is elected leader, he’ll have no further need of the local constituency parties, and in theory he could then execute a complete about-turn. Since he clearly doesn’t know much about the issues, and is in this just for ambition, I wouldn’t discount anything.

        1. Jabbawocky

          The problem is that passing the withdrawal agreement would require support by labour or the DUP/ultras. For the ultras the withdrawal agreement prevents them subjugating the rest of our economy to US interests, or offends the DUP sensitivities on the location of the de facto Irish boarder. Corbyn has always said he wants a general election, so will aim to topple Johnson at any time. Parliament can also compel the PM to ask for an extension as an amendment to any vote it puts forward on the WA.

          1. vlade

            “[the Parliament] can also compel the PM”. No, it can’t. It can tell him to do so, but it has very little actual power to “compel”. May was found in contempt of the Parliament, and what did it change?

            It can, technically, lock the PM (or anyone else) in the Big Ben, but while he’s locked there, he’s still PM and the only one who can send the request to revoke/extend (well, actually, the monarch can, but it would be a massive break with the precedent if she did. The Parliament would have to ask, and it would be a constitutional crisis of the first order TBH).

            The only real power the Parliament has is to remove the PM, and try (see above) to install the a new one.

              1. vlade


                The Parliament has rights to incarerate anyone w/o judical process. MPs (usually would be for contempt) in “Clock Tower of Winchester Palace”, i.e. Big Ben, “strangers” (i.e. not MPs) in normal prisons.

                Tower used to be royal prison.

                Chalk it up to another British quirk

    2. rd

      There are several “non-confidence” votes including defeats of budgets etc. that require dissolution of Parliament with the Queen requesting formation of a new government and a new election if a government can’t be formed.

      In theory, Parliament itself could take control but it would effectively be the end of the current party structure as individual members would have to coalesce into new coalitions. So it would go back to pre-1834 when the Conservative and Liberal Parties evolved out of the Whigs and Tories coalitions.

      So yes, it would be possible to ignore recent convention and return to a couple of hundred years ago. I think that would make the past couple of years look highly organized and competent in comparison.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        That is not correct. Please do not give inaccurate information.

        Under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act of 2011, the basis for dissolution of Parliament is now limited and does NOT include defeats of budgets. You appear to have missed that May suffered multiple defeats of precisely the sort that under the old rules would have led to new elections, such as on her Withdrawal Act and the censure of her Government.

        The monarch also no longer requests the formation of a new government. The monarch merely sets the date of new elections only after Parliament has triggered them by proclamation.

  2. Ember Brody

    31 October marks the beginning of Samhain. (pronounced ‘sow’- (like the female pig) en’ ).
    In Celtic Ireland, Samhain was the division of the year between the lighter half (summer) and the darker half (winter):

    “Now the sun has descended into the realm of the underworld, the forces of the underworld were in the ascendency. The lord of the underworld, unfettered from the control of the sun, now walked the earth and with him travelled all those other creatures from the abode of the dead. Ghosts, fairies and a host of other non-descript creatures went with him. The Lord of the Dead in Celtic mythology can be identified as Donn.”

    I think Samhain shall live up to its name this year.

    1. Donn

      No kidding.

      Come Samhain, the British PM may find himself, like Nera in the ancient Irish ghost story Echtra Nerai, lugging around some jabbering dead ‘thing’ in a barren landscape where you can’t trust your senses, and things just don’t work the way they used to. What things? All the things.

  3. The Rev Kev

    And just for a small bit of context. This October deadline was a fairly long one and the EU told the UK government not to blow it and waste time waffling around but to put it to good use. Taking this advice to heart, the UK government has been blowing it and has spent the past few months waffling around with elections to see who gets to lead the Conservatives on their quest for ever more exotic unicorns. And dear sweet jesus it looks like it will be Boris in charge of the UK. He reminds me of the crazy, racist uncle that you only ever get to see at Christmas gatherings and then try to forget.
    Meanwhile, there are now only 111 days left to the Halloween Brexit.

    1. Tony Wright

      Boris Johnson comes across very much as one of the 1980’s Hooray Henrys, although the interview he gave explaining his hobby about model buses was just plain wierd, and quite unnerving. If he was American he would probably comb his hair backwards and own casinos – I am waiting for him to adopt the “Fake News” dismissal of unpalatable facts, or the Etonian equivalent thereof. Johnson’s failure to back the British Ambassador to the US was unforgiveable, and reinforces the perception of Johnson as an egocentric, unprincipled opportunist.

  4. PlutoniumKun

    There are many wildcards in this, but I think one is that several different factions have gotten in line behind Johnson, and all think they have ‘the real plan’. They range from those assuming Johnson will bluster his way to getting the Withdrawal Agreement through to those convinced he is a Brexit true believer. I doubt Johnson has any idea himself, there is no reason from his record to think that he has any kind of strategic brain. He is brought up to believe that he’ll come up with something brilliant at the last moment and bluff his way through.

    1. Eustache de Saint Pierre

      Clowns to the Left of me, jokers to the Right, here I am stuck in the ?????.

        1. Eustache de Saint Pierre

          The 12th today after a week of standoff over a bonfire in South Belfast on a council owned leisure centre, in which BCC had to back down. Now the PSNI are being asked to investigate the leak of the list of the councils contractors who were going to being given the unenviable & likely highly dangerous task of taking it down – trouble is that the PSNI are the chief suspects.
          Still culture has been preserved so the members of the FB group set up to protect their right to set ablaze huge stacks of pallets with a couple of hundred of tyres thrown on for good measure,often next to residential properties, like last nights preview event in Portadown in which residents of a block of flats were advised to flee for their safety. All went well though thanks to firemen constantly spraying & foaming the building.

          I hope things in a Troubles sense don’t escalate, although due to technology it is i believe very unlikely to return to how it was, Belfast, Derry & a few other smaller towns I imagine could see a lot of street stuff especially from the young. Organisers from both sides have enough problems keeping them on a leash during times of relative calm. It would be tragic & I do really for the most part like the people who live under these Northern skies & most of the time I have no idea whose version of the bible they were born under. Paul Theroux travelled the British Isles many years ago & wrote a book about it & I have come to agree with his positive opinion of the people here.

  5. Ignacio

    Having Trump-BoJo-von der Leyen as the main characters in the scene it seems to me that the brexit affair will be reduced to a decision on widening or not the already open atlantic drift. Some in the west side migth think that a no deal would open a gate for the descomposition of the UE. I wonder if it could be the contrary. I would very much appreciate opinions on this.

      1. MisterMr

        In Italian: Unione Europea, French: Union Européenne, Spanish: Unión Europea, probably others.

          1. PlutoniumKun

            Ok sorry, I should have guessed that!

            I don’t see a no-deal destroying the EU – if anything I think it will reinforce it. But I also think it would embolden the core members to take a harder line on countries like Hungary, which could result in a significantly smaller EU.

  6. PlutoniumKun

    A further issue for Johnson is how to handle the DUP. They’ve been handed a massive defeat as the HoC pushes to legalise same-sex marriage and abortion in NI. The DUP is essentially a small religious cult that got lucky in politics, not a political party, so this is fundamental for them. They fear Johnson (rightly seeing him as someone who would sell them down the creek without a moments hesitation) and really wanted Hunt as PM.

    But they undoubtedly fear an election more than anything – the working assumption is that the DUP will vote with Johnson come what may, simply out of self preservation. But these people are genuine fundamentalists, this can’t be guaranteed. So its possible Johnson could find himself without a majority for anything.

    1. vlade

      DUP has painted itself into a very nice corner. If it sinks Johnson, it loses its power levers. If it doesn’t sink him, chances (especially with the direct rule) are that there will be more stuff coming to NI that they hate (the new laws are explicit that they come into effect unless the devolved admin is reinstated by some time), and that a no-deal Brexit will irrevocably move the NI towards the Ireland.

      If it wasn’t for the NI people, I’d say it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving group..

  7. Anonymous2

    Thank you Yves. Excellent analysis.

    I thought the article attached was of some interest. It has been taken in some (Brexiter) quarters as the first signs of a climbdown by the Irish. I do not buy this myself but Collins reportedly has links with Fianna Gael so some are saying he is flying a kite for them to see what the response is. Judging by the BTL comments in the Irish Times I doubt the view will be taken that the kite flies. If there is any link to FG I suspect it will have been flown to show any fainthearts that there is not the support for a climbdown.

    PK: do you have a view?

    As for the broader issues, one interesting question is : does Johnson have a plan? He has been known in the past to do very little forward thinking so, unless that has changed, it would be out of character.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      I saw that article yesterday – he’s been banging the same drum for a year. Collins is one of those political writers who’s sole job is to churn out the current political received wisdom from the centre right perspective, I don’t think he is taken seriously by anyone who matters – he is not part of any inner circles to my knowledge. (BTW its Fine Gael in government, with Fianna Fail being the other main party).

      Politically, any stepping back by Varadkar is highly unlikely – the truth is that a hard line on the backstop is very politically popular and is supported by all opposition parties. They may have found themselves here by accident, but Varadkar and Coveney have essentially bound themselves to that strategy with minimal room for maneuver. Apart from anything else, stepping back from it would almost certainly trigger discontent in border areas.

      1. Anonymous2

        Thank you PK (including for the correction – not sure what happened there, I could swear I checked).

  8. vlade

    I have seen some worries that Dublin by insisting on backstop will cause the hard border – but IIRC it concluded that if it drops the backstop, it only delays the hard border (because there’s still no way how FTA would solve it) and will be in worse negotiation position then.

  9. John

    When I read and digest all the comments above it’s essentially speculation with a bit of speculation thrown in – albeit , intelligent, cogent and feasible.

    Taking off a bit of the froth, we know we are headed, default for exit on 31October.

    We also think that Johnson is more likely to be PM than Hunt – he’s pushing hard for leave on 31 Oct ,whichever way “we” read the situation.

    Now take the EU , the other, more powerful part in the negotiation .

    Let’s assume everything they say about the WA is true – it’s not up for renegotiation .

    I want to know, how well prepared we really are for cliff edge /hard brexit. The good Europeans must have factored in a Johnson premiership as most likely – they must also realise , their 5th columnist chums of Greive, Boles , Bercrow and Cooper have pretty much failed in their task.

    Surely, it’s now just down to which side is better prepared for hard rupture brexit and, who gets the blame in first ( and hardest /loudest) in the inevitable communications battle to follow.

    Many on another more brexit leaving site, think the pain will be 20-25 times greater for the UK than the EU – I’m less sure, as when the dominoes fall they really don’t discriminate and, much like a natural tsunami , they take everything in sight – UK or EU alike and , most certainly RoI / NI.

    Maybe a rupture / catharthis is what is really needed , else common sense will prevail – but we’ve a long way to go before this point in time. Meanwhile get preparing for hard core brexit ,tin hats and all.

  10. Pavel

    Johnson is a man of zero principles and consistency. Recall how he pledged to lay down in front of bulldozers to prevent another Heathrow runway.

    If and when the hard reality of a no-deal Brexit is staring him and the rest of the UK in the face, I predict he will cave in and ask for another extension. As Yves and others have discussed many times here at NC a crash out would be catastrophic—and there are many hazards that we haven’t predicted… the infamous “unknown unknowns”.

    Boris would rather betray his base than preside over a no-deal disastrous departure. Just my two pence!

    1. Redlife2017

      Or it could be the ultimate political gamble. I think we’ll all have a better idea when we see what propaganda is being, uh, eminated through the MSM. If multiple papers start floating the “Blitz Spirit” in the next month or two, I’m going with no-deal. Multiple papers started floating no-deal in January and quickly normalised that as an actual option, afterall. Remember – Hard Brexit used to be what was essentially the Withdrawl Aggreement. Soft Brexit was very close links. No deal was just called: No deal. And that shifted in the space of about two months

      But I would like to note that yes, Boris could betray his base and then get stomped and trashed by the Brexit Party in May 2022. You presume that the Brexit Party doesn’t have real support or wouldn’t be emboldened by such a betrayal. Or that the constituencies (which are now run by ultra leavers as they have done the proper Trot move of entryism) wouldn’t move to slit his throat and find SOMEONE to do the deed. Tories are ruthless. And since a lot of MPs hate Boris, don’t think that the 1922 Committee wouldn’t go for the jugular faster than they did with May. I also am not a believer that the Tories will crash the government. At least not in time to stop it.

      The best thing we can hope for right now is for the the withdrawl aggreement to pass. That is literally it.

      1. John Jones

        Unfortunately, or not, depending, but passing the WA now only kicks the can down the road.

        It doesn’t solve a new FTA – all it does is, effectively, give us Brexit in name only, a loss of veto and full colony /protectorate status and a treaty that is guaranteed to be reneged upon.
        Just remind me what’s to like ? Oh, and zero pain to the EU.

        At least with hard brexit , RoI will have to be paid for 30 years and EU army guards will be manning a hard border for the same time.

        1. Mirdif

          The border will go down the Irish Sea in the long term and in the short term London will try to put up a hard border. This has been stated by Hammond and is the only way to collect tariffs and plug the gaping hole in the UK market.

          Failing to impose a hard border this will mean that all sorts of wanted and unwanted goods and bads will flood the UK market thanks to massive smuggling through that porous border. This is untenable in the long term. The hard border will be tried by London only to shore up support from the DUP and when it’s no longer needed the border goes down the Irish Sea because this will be easier to police and collect tariffs.

          It seems people following their fathers’ opposition to the EU is not the best of plans and the only way to convince them of this is chaotic crash out. More’s the pity that we’re not going to get it to put foolish people back in their box.

      2. Pavel

        Excellent points. I am aware of course (but did not include it in my comment!) that if Boris does not deliver Brexit of one kind or another on 31st October there will be a rebellion in his party and the Brexit Party will have a huge boost. He might not last long as leader of the Tories (and thus PM). Of course we have seen quite a few “nights of the long knives” and Tories in particular committing regicide as it were, but nothing will match the Brexiters’ fury if Boris doesn’t keep his promise. I peruse the #BrexitBetrayal hashtag on Twitter occasionally and those people are already enraged by the delays and perceived betrayals.

        Whatever happens, the UK is in for a rollercoaster ride this autumn.

    2. David

      I have a horrible feeling that Johnson has no idea what he’s going to do, and hasn’t really thought much about it.He strikes me as one of those Micawber-ish types who assumes that, whatever the situation, he’ll be able to bluff his way through and something will turn up. It astonishes me that somebody who was Foreign Secretary actually doesn’t seem to realise that a negotiated and signed treaty isn’t something you can just re-open if your parliament doesn’t like it. I doubt if there’s ever been a PM who was less well equipped, intellectually and morally, than Johnson, and that’s saying something.

  11. Redlife2017

    I’ll also note that the Labour Party is definitely tearing itself apart over this as well.

    I was hopeful that they could keep it together, but in an interesting experience I had recently at a local meeting, it is not going well. Imagine the awesome combination of weaponisation of anti-Semitism accusations with anti-Corbyn hatred and huge Remain angry feelings at not being European anymore (“How dare they vote that way, I’m European” vibe) and yeah. It’s pretty horrifying. The Remainers are not exactly going up in my estimation. That doesn’t mean I think the nut-job “no deal is better than remain” are better, but they aren’t the ones engaged in toxic bullying in my neck of the woods. And I work in a bank, so when I call it toxic bullying, believe me, it is not nice.

    This country is being torn apart and there will be the birth of something different. Not worse or better. Different. And I wish everyone would just get on with it.

  12. John Jones

    Unfortunately, or not, depending, but passing the WA now only kicks the can down the road.

    It doesn’t solve a new FTA – all it does is, effectively, give us Brexit in name only, a loss of veto and full colony /protectorate status and a treaty that is guaranteed to be reneged upon.
    Just remind me what’s to like ? Oh, and zero pain to the EU.

    At least with hard brexit , RoI will have to be paid for 30 years and EU army guards will be manning a hard border for the same time.

  13. eg

    Can anyone comment on the “sea border” option where NI is concerned?

    Is it workable in theory or practice?

    Is there a political way to get there?

    1. Tony Wright

      The sea border sounds like a good corporate solution – dud a proportion of your work force (i.e. NI protestants), and have a “wide moat” around your core business (in this case the Irish Sea). Move on and don’t look back. Simple.
      The cynicism of advancing age.

    2. rd

      It is workable in theory. The Orange vs. the Green makes it highly dubious if it could work in practice. It would effectively require a customs/immigration border between two parts of Great Britain (Northern Ireland and England/Wales/Scotland) which is likely to be a political non-starter.

    3. rd

      BTW – Great Britain has a history of having some odd political structures, like the Channel Islands:

      It is possible that some special relationship could be negotiated for Northern Ireland, but time is a wasting and the Channel Islands didn’t have a full-blown terrorist campaign for decades to raise the stakes.

    4. Clive

      The problem with this was always that it was great as a sound-bite and as a PR / messaging concept, but has no basis as a description of what it is supposed to implement. To state the obvious, there are no ports, customs or phytosanitary check-points “in the Irish Sea”.

      There are ports (and of course land and facilities available to expand these) in Northern Ireland or the UK mainland to accommodate such things — which is where the reality of this “solution” would be — there would be a “hard” border, there would be “checks at the border” but the border would simply get moved from the NI/RoI interfaces to the UK/NI interfaces.

      Moving a problem around is not solving a problem. Playing a game of problem pass-the-parcel merely ends up with one party being left aggrieved. They might stay quiescently aggrieved for a little while, but sooner or later, they’ll be agitating to roll back the “solution” which was never really a solution, and you’re right back where you started.

      This is why the Irish Protocol in the Withdrawal Agreement was such as work of genius, although widely disparaged and not seen as such. There was a tonne of compromise on both the EU’s side and the UK’s side (again, not given the recognition that it should have been) — the UK got its way in so far as the “four freedoms”, which were supposedly indivisible, got divided by the EU (NI got EU Single Market access for goods with no freedom of movement and no payments to the EU). The EU got CJEU jurisdiction over NI but only in narrow, prescribed areas. There was a truckload of fudge about the Customs Union, independent customs policy could be set by the UK, but it was fungible in respect of NI (the UK could, if it had chosen, put in work arounds to enable a “one state, two customs systems” approach).

      It is a tragedy beyond belief that the Withdrawal Agreement got politically toxified in the UK. I hold both the Ultra Leave’ers and Continuity Remain jointly responsible. Both should hang their heads in shame. Then, promptly, stitch up an arrangement to get the Withdrawal Agreement passed. It really is the least-worst option.

      1. vlade

        I agree that WA was a work of genius, and it should be recognised that the EU gave unprecedented concessions to the UK there. In effect, the NI status there should be called “Singapore on Lagan*”.

        If the DUP weren’t the idiots that they are, they should have LOVED it, as it would cement the NI status for decades to come, where all sort of businesses would set up there and run they UK/EU trade through it, because it would have been a better deal than any FTA the UK can ever hope to have – because in the NI’s case, the EU can use arguments of it being unique and required to keep the peace in the region. An argument that is irrelevant if you look at the whole of the UK.

        That tells you how far the “vicious” EU was really willing to go in protecting the NI peace and dealing with a small member state problem. Unlike the UK govt, which basically decided to ignore majority of the region (which voted remain, and has no interest in no-deal, hard-border) in exchange for the support of a few ISIS-like fundamentalists, which in the end torpedoed the self-same UK govt efforts (when May was at the helm).

        Again, if it wasn’t for the acutal human suffering, it would make a great TV, and undoubtedly academic careers will be made on writing on this whole madness..

        *Lagan being the river Belfast sits on.

      2. vlade

        While I wait for my other comment to be released from the moderation limbo, I’ll add something on the last part.

        Continuity Remain has at least the excuse that ultimately, they want remain, so any Brexit is bad for them, and expecting them to vote for a WA is naive IMO.

        The ERG clowns and others have no excuse whatsoever. In fact, as I write in the other comment, May’s WA would give them Singapore on Lagan, while being able to “enjoy” no-deal for the island of Britain, if they wished so (and understood what the WA actually means).

        It is worst than this, it’s actually pulling the trigger after you got your wish.

        1. David

          Yes, the ferocious opposition of the ERG circus to the WA has always puzzled me. It does, after all, get them what they said they wanted.
          I think it was combination of complete ignorance about how the EU works, and an assumption that the UK could dictate its own terms. They genuinely seem to think that they have been presented with some kind of EU negotiating position which they can amend if they don’t like it. The reality (“this is the best we could negotiate, take it or leave it”) seems not to have impinged at all.

          1. Anonymous2

            Yes. When things do not make sense, I tend to assume there are considerations we are not being told about. Ulterior motives?

  14. rd

    “…he needs the appearance of momentum.”

    Falling off a cliff would provide the necessary appearance of momentum. The question is if he has the stunt double’s airbag at the base.

    1. Tony Wright

      “Falling off a cliff….” No, not good. Too much mess and pollution to clear up.
      Just as an aside, I have been holiday reading a Ben Elton book in which he tongue in cheek writes about England leaving the UK. His three main “England out ” protagonists are named Bunter Jolly, Plantagenet Greased-Hogg and Guppy Toad.
      I wonder upon whom he based these three characters??

  15. George Phillies

    Can Parliament stop Johnson. Of course, first it has to want to. Parliament has the option of a vote of confidence in Johnson, one that showed he lacks a majority in Parliament. That would stop him in his tracks. A replacement is then sought, or a General Election is called.

    The continentals appear to be taking the stand that they will pretend that the rejection of the agreement by Parliament, which appears to have happened several times, actually did not occur.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      The fact that the UK sued for divorce and then Parliament won’t accept the terms the Government negotiated is not the EU’s problem. EU leaders were clear the morning after the Brexit vote that it would impose losses on them. The UK is still in denial about that when its losses will be bigger.

      The EU also regards Brexit as a time sink. They aren’t interested in spending more cycles on the Withdrawal Agreement. Their position is the UK will have to accept its major terms to get any trade deal.

  16. Peter

    Ursula von der Leyen, the woman nominated as the new president of the European Commission,
    The incompetent meeting the undisciplined opportunist

  17. David

    I’m starting to think that this is actually the first completely post-modernist political crisis in Britain’s history. I mean by that, that as politics in recent decades has become increasingly divorced from issues, and more and more about just personalities and power, we were bound to wind up ultimately with a crisis which was entirely about personalities and power, and not about issues at all. There are real issues outside, of course, and very important ones, but they play effectively no part in the crisis itself except as props and ammunition for one side or the other. The real and only thing that matters is becoming leader of the Tory Party and PM: the rest is confusing background noise. Reality doesn’t matter that much anyway, and I’m sure Johnson is already think ahead to other issues he can weaponise when Europe is no longer a winning cause.

  18. Anonymous2

    This is trivia but enjoyable IMO

    Apparently there is an old English West Country term: Boris-Noris.

    It reportedly means reckless behaviour without regard to risk or decency.


  19. Simon

    Just found this amazing blog. Brilliant.

    For my debut comment I simply observe that the phrase the “legal default” (ie a No Deal Brexit absent anything else) is not quite the absolute and simple certainty many people believe it to be and that is so regardless of what the legislation is purported to say.

    The Legal Opinion of The Three Knights to the contrary of that proposition is a very weighty and highly persuasive document.

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