“The Ten Brexit Questions No-One’s Giving a Straight Answer To”

Yves here. It is becoming more and more difficult to fathom what is happening in the UK. Boris Johnson looks certain to become Prime Minister. Even though he is fabulously unprincipled and thus could conceivably do a volte face on Brexit, as Chris Grey pointed out, he appears to be lashing himself to the mast of a no-deal Brexit.

The evening news stories report that Johnson plans to ramp up no deal planning. From The Times:

Boris Johnson will turn the government’s Brexit department into a ministry focused solely on no-deal planning after his expected victory in the Tory leadership race next week. Under proposals being worked on by Mr Johnson’s team, ministerial responsibility for Brexit talks with Brussels will transfer from the Department for Exiting the European Union to the Cabinet Office. The Brexit department will be charged with increasing preparations for a no-deal departure, including a mass public awareness campaign. While some have suggested that the new prime minister will make an early trip to Brussels or other European capitals, allies say there is little appetite to expose Mr Johnson to hostile briefings from EU bosses.

Stephen Barclay didn’t just tell Barnier that the UK regarded the Withdrawal Agreement as off; he was pointlessly rude about it.

And while this may not come to pass, the Ultras are trying to install true believers in key positions. From The Sun:

Senior Tory Eurosceptics are pushing Boris Johnson to make Iain Duncan-Smith his deputy PM to ensure he doesn’t waver on his Brexit pledges. The Tory leadership frontrunner has begun drawing up his Cabinet in tight secrecy, with only chief of staff Sir Eddie Lister knowing his full thinking. If Boris gets into No10 next week as most expect, it has emerged that as many as 12 Cabinet ministers will resign or be fired by him – the biggest clear out in nine years. Senior figures in the arch-Tory eurosceptic European Research Group have told him they want to see former Tory leader IDS become his deputy to make sure he sticks to his “do or die” pledge to deliver Brexit on October 31.

Moreover, a BBC interview of Michel Barnier in which the EU negotiator said Theresa May never threatened a no-deal Brexit has been seized on by the hard-core Brexiteers as proof that all they need to do is play that card and they will prevail. Barnier was explicit that May didn’t go down that path because the EU would have ignored it. They “knew from the very beginning that we’ve never been impressed by such a threat. It’s not useful to use it.”

But the big news story of the day was that the House of Lords passed an amendment to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill designed to prevent the new Prime Minister from proroguing Parliament, which has been bruited about as a way to assure a crash-out. It’s frustrating to see the failure to acknowledge that this flexing of Parliamentary muscle falls well short of what it takes to prevent a no-deal Brexit. The only ways to do that are to pass a Withdrawal Agreement or pass legislation instructing the Prime Minister to obtain an extension or revoke Article 50. There’s an assumption that if there was an early general election, the Prime Minister would ask for an extension, but even that isn’t a given (and yes, the UK does have to ask).

Because the Tories (and the DUP) have been driving the Brexit bus and Corbyn has failed abysmally in taking advantage of their terrible performance, I haven’t paid much attention to the state of Labour thinking on Brexit. If the post below is representative, it goes a long way towards explaining why Labour is in such a mess. It’s stunning to see the prominent play it gives to the idea of a second referendum. It’s like seeing someone standing on a rail crossing as a train is bearing down on them busily texting to schedule a job interview next week.

Reader calibration very much appreciated.

By Mark Perryman, a member of both the Labour Party and Momentum. He has edited numerous books on the politics of the Left, including The Corbyn Effect, and his new book Corbynism from Below will be published by Lawrence and Wishart in September 2019. Originally published at openDemocracy

Labour now backs a second referendum. But the Tories are now seriously freewheeling towards No Deal (today’s vote in parliament not withstanding). What now?

After a frantic few weeks of Tom Watson grandstanding, petitions, and dithering by its National Executive Committee, Labour has plumped for a second referendum just as the Tories move the goalposts once more. The Johnson accession, won on a promise to leave with (it seems) No Deal by 31st October.

Rather than settling how a Johnson Premiership hurtling towards a “do or die” Halloween deadline might be stopped; all Labour’s current position has done has is pile up rather a lot of questions. So, deep breath, here goes.

1 Is Jeremy Corbyn against the Tories’ Brexit?

In every meaningful vote Jeremy Corbyn hasn’t simply voted against a Tory Brexit, he has helped ensure the vote against it is maximised across all parties. Last month this brought the opposition frustratingly close to stopping No Deal being able to go through on the nod, and previously, nearly winning a vote of no Confidence in the government and on three separate occasions forcing the rejection of May’s deal.

2 If a new PM gets a No Deal through, whither a second referendum?

Stopping No Deal is the immediate priority. Amber Rudd’s surrender to a Johnson No Deal, Caroline Flint and Sarah Champion saying publicly that they will vote for No Deal, all were early indications of how close Johnson is to making that happen. Today’s successful vote in the Commons to seek to prevent a new PM suspending parliament is encouraging, but as Stephen Bush points out in the New Statesman today, chances of a No Deal are still high as MPs still seem a long way from agreeing a sustained way forward on actually blocking No Deal. And if No Deal isn’t stopped then the case for a second referendum borders on the irrelevant.

3 What about Labour’s Brexit rebels?

The relationship of Labour’s Brexit rebels to the Corbyn project has been under-examined by Remainers and the political commentariat. Most of the Labour rebel votes that have repeatedly helped the Tories defeat Labour and the anti-Brexit opposition, come from the traditional Labour right, such as John Mann, Caroline Flint, Kate Hoey and now ex-Labour Ian Austin (the latter two even voting against today’s motion to block the suspension of parliament). These are joined by Gareth Snell, Ruth Smeeth and others not so easily pigeonholed but who define themselves as anti-Corbyn. Then there’s Lisa Nandy, who was Owen Smith’s campaign manager in the 2016 Leadership Election. The overwhelming majority who would see through No Deal from Labour’s right and centre-right. The Corbynite Left Eurosceptics MPs have largely, with the exception of Ronnie Campbell, followed Corbyn’s opposition to a Tory Brexit. But that’s not quite how its portrayed in the media. One of the recent vocal rebels, Emma Lewell-Buck, was ludicrously foregrounded as an ‘ex-Corbyn’ minister, when she resigned from the Shadow Cabinet as long back as 2016 to campaign for Owen Smith.

Isn’t it about time Tom Watson put down his foghorn means of communicating with Corbyn and instead had a quiet word in the ear of his political mates on his wing of the party? Because to date he has been singularly unsuccessful in persuading the to vote any way except for against a second referendum and for a Tory Brexit.

4 Any sign of a parliamentary majority for a 2nd Referendum?

Short of Johnson imposing and enforcing a 3-line whip for a ‘Back Me or Sack Me’ referendum (!) there is no parliamentary majority for a Second Referendum. There’s enough Labour rebels who will vote against, and not enough Tory rebels who will vote for. With no obvious prospect of this changing prior to a General Election there remains no immediate prospect of one.

5 What question on any referendum ballot paper?

From the start the second referendum campaign has been fatally undermined by being very obviously pro-Remain. The ‘you got it wrong the first time, try, try, and try again brigade’ label sticks with good cause. Of course Leavers on the whole don’t see the need for another vote, they won. But now with No Deal the situation has changed. If the 2nd Referendum is to gain the necessary support there’s only one question on the ballot paper that will do it, No Deal vs Remain.

6 Does Labour know what support for 2nd Referendum will cost in votes

There is little doubt that there is huge support for a second referendum amongst Labour members, including the trade unions. And we know that this is true of Labour voters too. But in the electoral system we have, this is entirely different to suggesting the same is true of Labour votes where they most matter, ie, in Labour ‘s 66 target seats that it needs to secure an overall majority and its 19 defences where Labour MPs have a majority under 1000.

And this isn’t the stereotypical Northern Labour vs Metropolitan Labour divide either. I live in Sussex, and Labour’s 2 target seats here voted 56% Leave in Hastings and Rye, and 58% Leave in Crawley. Of course by backing a second referendum Labour may gain some votes in these and other seats but it is just as likely to lose votes in these and other seats too.

7 Will there be an autumn early General Election?

Why? If there’s one thing that unites all wings of the Tory Party it is clinging on to power at all costs. It will be tight for Johnson but after the last vote of no confidence fell short by just a handful of votes, Vince Cable declared the Lib Dems wouldn’t back another. Will their new leader? Sarah Champion, apart from backing No Deal, even told an interviewer that if there was a No Confidence vote in the government she wasn’t sure how she’d vote. Given the current febrile atmosphere in the PLP how many Labour MPs are likewise unsure? Or the various independents? Will any Tory MPs vote to bring down their own government? Unlikely. And given May’s disastrous snap election, despite clearer poll leads, it seems unlikely Johnson having just fulfilled his life’s ambition would risk promptly losing it in a back me or sack me General Election.

8 What kind of 2nd referendum if Labour wins a General Election?

For the past three years Keir Starmer has been shuttling back and forth to Brussels trying to create the basis of a Labour ‘soft Brexit’. Universally respected across the Labour Party and beyond, almost everybody across the Labour Party – and many beyond it –

agree he’s done a very good job in near-impossible circumstances. But the position now being demanded of Labour, before a General Election has even been announced, is that all of this be abandoned for a Remain vs Keir’s Deal referendum with Labour to campaign against its own deal, whatever that might be. Plainly this make no sense, but never mind?!

9 Is everything is about Brexit?

In my part of Sussex, Lewes, our primary schools are threatened with privatisation. Our High Street shops are closing at such a rate there’s not enough charity shops to take their place. There are three foodbanks, all oversubscribed and under-supplied. The train service to London is both the most expensive, and the worst in all of Europe. None of this was caused by Brexit, while it may be worsened by Brexit the solutions required are bigger than whether we remain or leave. It’s not a distraction to make this case, quite the opposite.

10 What kind of 2nd Referendum result will satisfy whom?

If we have a second referendum and the result is 51% Remain vs 49% No Deal, what then? 3rd time unlucky?

There is of course a good case that never mind all this, the democratic will of the Labour membership is to have a second referendum. That the votes which would be lost, Labour is losing anyway for a multiplicity of factors. That the votes gained are where the party’s future lies – and that most importantly it’s the right thing to do in any case. Fair enough. But whilst the party has on occasion dithered its essential position has been correct – to find a way out of the Brexit impasse that in the words of Gary Younge ‘turns “them” and “us” into “we”’. Dithering? Yes. But a whole lot better than a party which in all seriousness campaigns under the banner ‘Bollocks to Brexit.’ What kind of country does such a slogan envisage? What kind of healing process does it offer, what kind of hateful outcome is it likely to produce? One neither liberal, nor democratic.

OK, it’s taken it a while but Labour backing a second referendum is almost the easy part. Coming up with the arguments, and how to actively contribute towards the creation of a new ‘we’ is the difficult, and far more important part.

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50 comments

  1. Frenchguy

    Not sure if you have seen it but this story was another proof of how degenerate Tories rebels are. They are actually thinking of asking the Queen to do the job of the PM so they don’t have to fire him (and risk an election)…

    Brexit: Scheme to block no deal ‘could involve Queen’

    https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-49040128

    Reply
    1. rd

      My guess is that the Queen is much better at avoiding this than Labour would be in getting her sucked in.

      Reply
  2. vlade

    “[…]if No Deal isn’t stopped then the case for a second referendum borders on the irrelevant.”
    No, if there’s no deal, 2nd referendum IS irrelevant (except as an ascension referendum).

    Let’s face it, 2nd referendum right now is a rotting corpse, as it has been dead at least since the March votes nothing even close to a majority for anyting.

    The only way to _attempt_ to stop at least no-deal, and possibly Brexit is a GE (because, despite the assumption of point 8, I can’t see a majority Labour govt coming from any new GE). And even that is at best just an attempt, and a very long shot at that, unless Johnson surprises everyone and asks for it next week.

    I’m really sick of the point 6 “calculus”, as it assumes that the Labour remain voters have no other home to go to (hello Hillary!), which has been repeatedly proven wrong. It’s nice to say “It’s a marginal Labour seat, and voted Leave, so we need to cater to the Leave voters”. The fact is that even in most Leave seats, 2/3rds (+/-) of Labour voters voted Remain. Labour under Corbyn is NEVER going to get any significant part of the Tory vote, no matter leave/remain. That was about 2/3rd of the Leave vote. So please tell me, where the extra Labour voters will come from, if even half of Labour’s remain voters (1/3rd of Labour vote) will go to LD/Greens, as they seem to. And “they will come back” – well, if a person who voted Labour for decades goes to Green/LD, believe me, a lot of them won’t be coming back unless they believe things changed significantly (if Labour really wanted them back, Corbyn would step aside and get Starmer elected as the leader, with Corbyn as a “Chief Idelogists” or whatever. Not gonna happen.)

    The point 7 though is really weird. LD will vote against Johnson’s government, there’s no way they would even abstain. Their point in January was it was pointless for them supporting Labour’s meaningless votes. The situation has changed since, including Johnson as PM, and a no-confidence vote as likely the last measure to stop no-deal.

    “Will any Tory MPs vote to bring their own government?” Yes. Clarke and Grieve said so. Clarke is not going to stand up in the next elections, he doesn’t have anything to lose and despises Johnson and all he stands for. Grieve is actually quite principled, and IMO would not say this if he didn’t mean it (and has a history that bears it out).

    A few Labour MPs could abstain, but TBH, that would be really same for them as going independent, as regardless of Brexit they would be out come next elections. What do you think LD would do when Johnson’s govt would survive because of a few Labour MPs abstaining? Send another thank you letter to Labour?

    TBH, if I had any belief that the UK public won’t be again brainwashed into “it’s all the EU’s fault”, I’d almost want a crash-and-burn no-deal, just to see Johnson, Farage and their fellow traveller swing from the lampposts.

    Reply
    1. PlutoniumKun

      Regarding point 6, I think every Labour MP should read yesterdays link to the LRB on the fate of the SDP in Germany. Their leadership assumed that they had no competition on the left side of the spectrum. Now they find themselves on 10% and just one of three major left/green parties. Labours assumption that the Greens were irrelevant and the LibDems were dead will almost certainly come back to haunt them.

      Reply
      1. Paul O

        I am not so sure. Labour still needs to fight out its internal battles – obviously the timing here is poor.

        It still feels like two parties – one way or another, to a lesser or greater degree, it is going to divide anyway.

        Reply
      2. David

        Same for France, where the Socialists could barely manage 6% of the vote in the last Europeans, and may be on the way to extinction as a party. They reconfigured the party of Mitterrand as the party of Clinton/Obama and it didn’t quite work out. Their working class voters deserted to Le Pen, their middle-class voters to the (very surprised) Greens.

        Reply
  3. PlutoniumKun

    I commented yesterday that Brexit has become like a brain virus, paralysing everyone’s ability to think. Its come to the stage where I think that quite literally anything could happen. The only people with a strategy are the Ultras. Even the Ultras may not necessarily be united, simply because some, like Farage, see Brexit as a money train, so would be quite happy to see the circus go on while crying ‘betrayal!’ at the top of his voice.

    What Labour will do is anyone’s guess. As an outsider, they seem hopelessly split into several factions over Brexit, those factions not necessarily matching other ideological splits. This is made worse by the obvious reality that many of them simply don’t understand the technicalities, witness the continuous calls for a Referendum. Everyone who is calling for a Referendum seems to have a different idea on what its supposed to be, what the questions will be, what role it plays in the whole circus. I sense that Corbyn is losing his grip on the party and this will make them essentially bystanders, as they’ll be too busy battling each other to come up with a united stance.

    There does seem to be desperate plotting going on by the small clique of relatively sane Tories to see how they can stop Johnson pushing the country over the edge. But I suspect that in the end they simply won’t have the numbers to do anything. The problem of course is that the UK is now stretching the limits of its ‘constitution’ way beyond what it can handle. What happens if senior politicians simply refuse to accept that Johnson is PM without a parliamentary vote?

    It does seem that Johnson genuinely does not believe a no-deal is a big deal as he simply doesn’t understand what it entails. My sense from occasional reading of Brexiter comments is that they genuinely believe that no-deal is a threat they can use on the EU to get a better deal.

    I think the general public are just as much at sea thanks to the utterly useless reporting of nearly all media outlets. I don’t think people realise just how much Johnson is loathed by other politicians in Europe. I don’t think most people realise that no-deal is a default. I don’t think most people genuinely know just how chaotic a no deal will be and how long the chaos will last.

    Reply
    1. Paul O

      I largely agree with that last paragraph but would add that many people – possibly most – are bored S**tless with hearing about it and just want it to go away. It won’t of course.

      Most people I know who are interested in politics – which is quite a few and on different ‘sides’ still believe there is much to play for in the long run and quite a few see Brexit is a distraction – too strong a word perhaps but for those with fairly strong ideological positions it is not necessarily the primary concern. It probably should be but what is to be done?

      I mentioned elsewhere that I was reading Fintan O’Toole
      https://www.goodreads.com/en/book/show/42267247-heroic-failure

      I finished it this morning. It is one of the more interesting books I have read – I read quite a lot. Stimulating, ironically comic, political polemic of the finest order.

      Reply
        1. anonymous

          PK, Fintan O’Toole is a very good writer, an amazingly productive one. At one time I read him daily. When the world debt bubble burst and banks failed, O’toole –over night –adopted all the market knows best excuses. Then: Socialism for the banks— Capitalism (unemployment) for everybody else. I couldn’t understand it, Ireland has its own political/economic traditions you know. Sean O casey and James Connolly — Shaw –would be howling. Everyone in Ireland, including children, were told they owed € 29, 000 to banks. Privatizations, the whole neoliberal playbook came out. Democratic states were called PIIGS. O’toole went along with it. Coached the public in it —a very friendly, charming, TINA. I saw him speak at Yale (2010). Yale pays big honorarium bucks. They loved him. I was shocked. He made it seem all natural/inevitable. Never mentioned what Bill Black calls the F word (fraud) I can’t even read about Brexit. I love England. Think English history is the coolest. How could this happen? I said to O’toole in New Haven that the one thing Ireland should’ve imported from England was John Maynard Keynes.
          Brexit should never have happened. I don’t trust O’toole.
          Sometime, maybe you could expand (from today’s links) on pacifist culture in Japan. Thanks ( Nobody understands socialism, everybodys screaming fascism, pacifism is ineffable.)

          Reply
    2. Redlife2017

      PK – I can confirm that the split is very much non-ideological. I am a Leaver (an odd duck in my constituency/ward) that is very pro-Corbyn. The Remainers split down into anti-Corbyn / pro-Watson and pro-Corbyn. But the pro-Corbyn Remainers hate the anti-Corbyn Remainers. The anti-Corbyn Remainers literally think that everyone thinks like them. They had the balls to put a Conference Motion to the General Meeting that stated that the vast majority of Labour voters want Remain. Thankfully that got voted down. I would like to note that the anti-Corbyn Remainers are the ones who weaponize anti-Semitism accusations as well. But they are a vicious lot. They are still sore over losing control of the Party.

      The pro-Corbyn Remainers try to be supportive of the leadership, but even that breaks down into pro-Corbyn Remainers affected by Brexit Derangement Syndrome (“But I’m European!!! You are killing my sense of identity!”) and the pro-Corbyn Remainers who are not suffering from Brexit Derangement Syndrome (“Well, that was the vote, don’t like it. But let’s just make sure this doesn’t blow up the UK and try to help the country.”). They work well together on everything but Brexit, where it becomes the issue that dare not speak its name. I am the lonely one, the Leaver without BDS but I get along well with my pro-Corbyn non-BDS suffering Remainer friends.

      And your last paragraph is really key. Johnson doesn’t understand details and handwaves problems. They always get solved (somehow!). He has always created messes that others have cleaned-up. Europeans hate that crap in general. People just figure we will muddle through. But I have seen evidence (I’ll need to look up later) that almost half of the population is doing prepping (i.e. filling up the pantries). We know deep in our hearts what is about to hit us…

      Reply
      1. PlutoniumKun

        Thanks for those insights – I had hoped that things would calm down within the Labour Party (last time I was in England I found myself listening in to a deeply heated argument between two pro-Corbyn Labour members on Brexit). But it seems not.

        Its beginning to remind me of stories I heard growing up when elderly relatives would quietly whisper about family splits during the Civil War in Ireland. It really is getting that bad.

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      2. vlade

        You know, I find it more than a bit distressing labeling people who actually feel strongly European, and believe there’s no good Brexit (and that if people vote for a death penalty, it’s still not the right decision to implement it, to put a counter argument to “but the people voted for it”), as having a “Derangement Syndrome”.

        There’s enough genuinely deranged people on both sides w/o broad-brush labeling.

        Reply
        1. stan6565

          I wonder whether the distress felt by people who voted for escape from under the yoke of clandestine EU Superstate counts less than the distress of those who want to remain within it at any cost.

          Reading the commentary here, these two types of distresses certainly do not appear to be given the same value/respect.

          Why is that?

          Reply
          1. Anonymous2

            The UK is not under the yoke of a clandestine EU Superstate. It has control of its own defence policy (subject to NATO), all important aspects of taxation policy, foreign policy, public spending, education policy, healthcare policy, local government and constitution. Its trade policy is of course constrained by membership of the single market and customs union but it has to be if it is to enjoy the benefits of membership. There are some constraints on employment and environmental policy to prevent a race to the bottom.

            EU member states which belong to the Eurozone and Schengen area are subject to greater constraints but the UK is exempt from these or any requirement to join them in the future.

            Any human distress is cause for concern. However, as O’Toole I think, put it, you cannot escape from imagined oppression. The Brexit debate is replete with disinformation such as your post reflects.

            Reply
      3. ambrit

        As an Anglo-American quasi-prepper, I can empathize with your “…almost half of the population…”.
        Unlike over here, the UK, (united for how much longer?), is facing an actual, predictable existential crisis. From what I have read so far, the domestic effects of a no-deal Brexit will be similar to those of an extended war; privation and misery in general. During the “Last War,” (we don’t really count all those post colonial fracases, such as Kenya and the Falklands,) the Royals proved their worth by standing up and visibly “leading.” My Mom mentions being proud as punch about the present Monarch because she had visibly worked at something ‘patriotic’ during that war. I believe that she was a driver in the services during that conflict. Good public relations? Of course it was. A much better image to project than scuttling off to Canada. To return to my point. The Brexit Experience, very similar to the old sixties Psychedelic Experience, (are you experienced?) will need a similar public relations push from the Royals. If they don’t, then they might be pushed off of the world stage by an enraged British public.
        No matter what, the looming Brexit Disaster will be a “learning experience” for American Preppers. We will see what works, what doesn’t, and what has been overlooked.

        Reply
    3. jabbawocky

      I agree that Johnson really seems to believe that the Europeans will blink if threatened with no deal. Only this can explain Barclay’s tone in his meeting with Barnier this week, who really seems to believe that they can get the backstop removed. Of course the only way to do this is to commit to staying in the single market. If I was Boris I would take this route and face down the ultras: then Boris will be a national hero, fancy that!

      Reply
    4. vlade

      You know, it’s really sad that the most adult people in the room are “a small clique of relatively sane Tories” – and that’s not saying much.

      I agree with Paul O that a lot of people is in “just get it over” mode, and I suspect a lot of those are no-dealers. Because, as you say, most people have no idea what “no deal” actually means, and have an assumption it’s the status quo. When, in reality, no-deal is as far from status quo as you can think, and “deal” (WA) is close to status quo for a bit longer.

      Reply
  4. John A

    Unfortunately, the absurd antisemitism smears against Corbyn and Labour have outspun much of the Brexit debate and forced him to firefight and continually give ground. One of his biggest enemies here is Tom Watson, a big recipient of Israel-friendly donations.
    Corbyn is stuck in a situation where the residual Blairites, very Clinton 3rd way and similar to Schroeder, are like Lambert wrote/quoted someone the other day of the Democrats being a club dedicated to protecting its own members’ interests, not those of the electorate. On top of that, thanks to the Brexit bus and 350m a week to the NHS not to the EU lie, project fear et., swathes of Labour supporters around the country, battered by austerity and living in rustbelt communities with high streets denuded of everything but betting shops and charity shops, plus a Weatherspoons pub with cheap all day food and space for smokers outside, whose owner is a big Brexiter, felt things were so bad, how could they get worse if we left the EU? Any talk of withdrawing withdrawal will be pounced on by Farage, R-M and Johnson et al, as a betrayal of the great British public.
    There are no literally no grownups in the room in Parliament anymore (if there ever were, questionmark).
    Corbyn is hated by 99% of the MSM that churn out all sorts of crap about him on a daily basis. I hear people say, they dont like Boris or Hunt or the Tories, but then Corbyn is a bad…

    Reply
  5. David

    I agree that it’s probably pointless to try to predict what will happen, in a situation where there is no logic and no coherence to anything. Let me offer two rather speculative thoughts, though, about the situation when the decision is finally made and implemented, and the immediate crisis is over.
    First, I think that Brexit as a subject is now so toxic that in the future political parties and leaders will be judged primarily by how close to it they were, and how far they can be blamed for what happened. (Note, this extends all the way from no-deal to revocation of Art 50.) Having your fingers in the Brexit pie may be very rewarding now, but I suspect we are going to see a kind of post-Brexit blues where politicians will be scrambling to disclaim all responsibility. In that situation, Labour’s policy of keeping its head down might well pay dividends. When the smoke has cleared and the bodies have been taken away, the field will belong to those who can most convincingly say “not us, guv.”
    Likewise, I wonder whether many of those who demand “no deal” wouldn’t actually be just as happy with revocation. The fact is that most people don’t understand the issues, and simply want this dreadful, paralysing, brain-eating affair to come to an end. “No deal” just seems the quickest way of making the nightmare go away, but I think public opinion would actually swing quite quickly behind revocation if it were on the table, especially given that “no deal” is not the end of the problems, but just the start.

    Reply
    1. PlutoniumKun

      I suspect you could be right on both counts. I think that in some long dreamed of post Brexit future it will be the Great Unspeakable and the most valuable commodity a politician will have is not to have said anything on it. A bit like how Obama got lucky by picking just one issue to go against the tide – voting against the Iraq war.

      As you say, I suspect a lot more people would like revocation than will admit it. Most would just be relieved to have it over with, and a lot of Farage types will love the opportunity to keep their profile high.

      Reply
  6. Anonymous2

    Thank you Yves. I think your comment below sums matters up in a nutshell:

    ‘It is becoming more and more difficult to fathom what is happening in the UK.’

    In a situation where rumours fly around and mad ideas are circulated (the Queen to replace Johnson as the UK’s representative at Council of Ministers’ meetings!) it is incredibly difficult to get a reliable reading.

    To my mind one can illustrate the bizarre nature of the current UK situation by asking a number of questions which in other circumstances might appear insane but in fact can I think reasonably be asked:

    Is Johnson really happy with no deal or does he just say that to get elected leader of the Tories?
    How many Tories will actually politically die in a ditch to frustrate no-deal, if necessary by voting the Johnson Government out? Presumably those whose political careers in the Conservative party are effectively over. Clarke and Grieve are mentioned. Might they include Hammond and even possibly May? Does Johnson actually want to be frustrated in his supposed determination to take the UK out of the EU on 31 October ? Might these Tories be frustrated by Labour MPs voting in support of Johnson and against their own party in a vote of no confidence. What is motivating these Labour MPs? I know they justify it on the basis of how constituents voted in 2016 but there is now plenty of evidence of a 5% swing to Remain which would make basing decisions on 2016 voting patterns less persuasive. Would these Labour MPs be signing their own political death sentence or is Corbyn secretly supporting them to ensure Johnson would stay in office?

    In other words, does Johnson secretly want to avoid no-deal but feel constrained to pretend the opposite, while Corbyn secretly wants to bring it about while giving the impression he is resisting? It seems to me the evidence is perfectly open to being interpreted in this way.

    Reportedly Johnson wrote a novel once. In it his hero asks himself if he suffers from akrasia or Thanatos (showing off his Classical education of course). It is thought by some that the hero is largely a self-portrait (are we surprised?).

    Whom the Gods would destroy they first make mad.

    Reply
    1. PlutoniumKun

      Its probably a futile effort to judge what Johnson is really thinking – its highly likely that he has no plans at all, he just thinks he’ll fumble his way through. But I suspect that he may think a no-deal is better for him politically as he is probably self aware enough to realise that the alternatives will mean endless trips to Brussels for boring negotiations, he’d much rather have it all behind him so he can concentrate on whatever it is he thinks he’ll do as PM.

      My suspicion is that Corbyn does want no-deal. Partly because he has no interest in the subject so he wants it over and done with, and also I strongly suspect that his people think that a post no-deal UK will be much more fertile ground for whatever socialist paradise he’s planning.

      Reply
  7. fdr-fan

    The MEP election a couple weeks ago WAS the second referendum, and it came out even more strongly for Leave. Why does anyone think a THIRD referendum would go the other way?

    All of this fake activity is just classic procrastination. I used to do this sort of thing when I was in high school, inventing all sorts of “necessary” tasks to avoid homework and chores.

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    1. Math is Your Friend

      “The MEP election a couple weeks ago WAS the second referendum, and it came out even more strongly for Leave. Why does anyone think a THIRD referendum would go the other way? ”

      Maybe because the clearly pro-brexit parties got fewer votes than the clearly anti-brexit parties?

      Reply
      1. Anonymous2

        Except it was a bit more complicated than that, arguably.

        35% pro no-deal
        25% pro deal
        40% no Brexit

        so no majority for any way forward.

        Reply
  8. Synoia

    The UK has always had these irreconcilable factions. Its history is replete with rebellions against the crown, and little wars between separate parties.

    This is just more of the same. Historically a strong crown hammered the factions into agreement, sometimes by focusing them on a common foreign enemy.

    It is chaos, and will remain chaos for some considerable time. The Wars of the Roses hammered on for 200 years. The results of the Protestant reformation lasted for at least 150 years, from Henry VIII to George I.

    The British, are about to achieve the position the French expat community in Africa expressed in my youth (Little Pigs have Big Ears). Becoming an insignificant little Island off the cost of Europe.

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  9. EoH

    Privation and misery for the many is generally what makes the wealthy wealthy. So it should come as no surprise why hardline neoliberals would be hardline Brexiteers.

    Chaos and dislocation are what make room to legitimize demagogues and populists. They most often emerge from the right, a la Poland and Hungary. The two groups would seem to have a symbiotic relationship.

    Pity about the population though. Perhaps Hungarian will become the new popular “A” level course, and emigration consultant the new growth industry.

    Brexit alone, not to mention a hard Brexit, will make it virtually impossible to keep Scotland united with the kingdom

    Reply
  10. Lambert Strether

    Whatever Corbyn was elected for, it wasn’t this. A second referendum is just the worst, lowest common denominator program policy imaginable. Advocating for a process, not an outcome? Are these people liberal Democrats, or what? What a bowl of mush.

    Reply
  11. ahimsa

    My sad prediction:
    Whether the UK exits or not, a new nationalistic anti-EU terrorism may emerge.

    If the UK remains, the Brexiters will have been ‘betrayed’. They will blame the EU.
    If the UK exits with No Deal, the country will experience long term economic crisis. The Brexiters will blame the EU.
    If the UK exits with a Deal. The Unionists and Ultras will have been betrayed. Guess who will be blamed.
    Far-right groups across the EU will claim common cause.

    The media & internet will whip things to a frenzy. It doesn’t really matter if it is authentic grassroots ideological paramilitarism or, as too often is the case, powers that be co-opting the anger and disenfranchisement to achieve their purposes. Think about it, there are plenty of groups who would like to weaken the EU, see it fail, or turn it more repressive.

    I hope I’m wrong.

    (This post probably belongs more at MoonOfAlabama)

    Reply
    1. Andy Raushner

      Your missing the point. The EU is itself irrelevant. Neolibs neolib. The destruction of capital markets will destroy right wing groups pronto.

      Reply
  12. Tom Bradford

    I quit the UK in 1990, in the last year of Thatcher’s reign, appalled by what she had done to society and fearing worse to come. Yet my worst nightmares were never as bad as Brexit.

    I can’t understand it. Even in 1990 I could still relate to Thatcher’s supporters, understood their case and could argue against it. I could even acknowledge that they had a case just as, usually, they would acknowledge mine and argue coherently and reasonably against it. It was even accepted that despite our differences we were in our own ways fighting a corner for a better Britain for all.

    Now all such dialogue appears to have ceased. There is no arguing of disparate causes, no ideological positions to defend. One is forced into the position of a citizen of the England of 1640 – that of being for the King or against him with no arguable logic to adopt for either position and no middle ground to take that didn’t expose you to being attacked by both sides.

    I simply can’t comprehend what has happened to the country I grew up in and thought I knew. But there again, I cannot comprehend how anyone but a few ignorant, gullible fools could invest their hopes and belief in obvious charlatans like Johnson and Trump yet there are millions who have apparently done so.

    Perhaps age has given me insight and and wisdom. Perhaps, and more likely, living now as I do far from the madding crowd in a well-run, egalitarian and gently self-mocking little country has immunised me from whatever madness has infected both the UK and the USA. I wish I could say ‘pass me the popcorn’ and watch the self-inflicted disasters unfold in both counties but it’s as though, faced with the now inevitable disaster of Global Warming, people have decided to immerse themselves in pointless battles just to distract themselves from what’s looming on the horizon.

    I am reminded of Nevil Shute’s novel ‘On the Beach’ where the inhabitants of Australia, faced with the inevitable arrival of deadly radiation from nuclear war in the North, immersed themselves in intense, often suicidal pursuits just to take their minds off their inevitable extinction.

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    1. EoH

      Any preference for the pursuits of Fred Astaire, Tony Perkins, or Gregory Peck? I suppose my choice would be an unlimited supply of a good burgundy, handrolled cigars and a once elegant street corner from which to enjoy them – until the cloud reaches shore.

      In the real world, you seem to have made the better choice: finding “a well-run, egalitarian and gently mocking little country,” rather than the mess that American and British elites have bestowed on their fellow residents.

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      1. Tom Bradford

        “rather than the mess that American and British elites have bestowed on their fellow residents.”

        I don’t believe you can blame the elites. In fact my point is otherwise. Film the other day of Trump’s supporters howling “send her home” sounded initially to me terrifyingly like “sieg heil” while Trump’s stance – arm’s crossed over his heart and jutting jaw – is horrifyingly reminiscent of Mussolini. And both only achieved what they did because they gained the support of a significant section of their communities – perhaps not a majority initially but enough to gain control.

        This is what I see happening in both the US and the UK – a sizeable section of both populations surrendering reason for faith in something – anything – inspired and directed not by the ‘elites’ – the primary concern of which is usually maintenance of the status quo – but by charismatic snake-oil salesmen whose only interest is in what’s in it for them.

        Charismatic snake-oil salesmen will always be with us, but for them to achieve anything more than a short-lived limited success on the fringes of society, as Trump and Johnson have done (to whose ranks I’d add Farage, et al), suggests that ignorance/gullibility/despair is no longer limited to the fringes of society but is now penetrating it frighteningly deeply.

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        1. EoH

          That view seems like blaming the victim. From WWII to about 1980, the elites had shared experiences and mildly cooperated with the middle and working classes in sharing wealth. After about 1980, they adopted devil-take-the-hindmost neoliberal policies.

          The share of wealth for the elites skyrocketed while that of everyone else stayed the same, despite that it was “everyone else” who generated the productivity that produced that wealth.

          Budgets for corporate and government programs plummeted: universities, social services, public health systems, retirement and benefits programs. Employees became human resources and then the precariat.

          It is the precariat in any society that becomes vulnerable to the snake oil salesman. When hard work and playing by the rules yields ever more precarious employment and public services, it is easier for faith to supplant reason.

          Reply
        2. Lambert Strether

          > I don’t believe you can blame the elites.

          It’s called the ruling class because it rules. –Arthur Silber

          So, yes you can.

          * * *

          > Trump’s stance – arm’s crossed over his heart and jutting jaw – is horrifyingly reminiscent of Mussolini.

          I’m starting to get awfully tired of the mindset that infers fascism from body language or individual characteristics or even vocabulary; “terrifyingly,” to pick a word you see in headline after headline these days, our opinion makers seem completely devoid of the ability to look at history or treat matters systemically. Have you ever noticed the way that Obama lifts his jaw? It juts, kinda. It, too, is terrifyingly reminiscent of Mussolini.

          “But that’s ridiculous!” you say. Yes, it is. That is my point.

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    2. Tony Wright

      Yes, as a fellow expatriate Englishman I also find the Brexit fiasco beyond logical comprehension. And I keep getting the image in my head of that wonderful old Ron Cobb cartoon of a human wired up to a plunger and blowing his head off in front of two watching dolphins. The caption? “Man Demonstrating his Superiority over Animals”
      Cameron should be on trial for treason, and Johnson and Rees-Mogg should be manacled, gagged and locked in the Tower of London until they die.
      Brexit is the oligarchs’ e.g. Murdoch, grab for everything they can get their grubby paws on. Pure and simple.
      Most Brexit voters are like Trump’s MAGA supporters, self-deluded and conned. And unfortunately most of those who did not vote in favour of these charlatans like Trump and Farage will suffer just as much as those who did.
      Oh, and has anybody bothered to canvass the opinions of the Head of State, HRH?
      However, notwithstanding all of the above, I am firmly of the opinion that most of the world economies are a series of debt-riddled ponzi schemes which will come crashing down , probably within the next 18months. Chief amongst these are Europe and Japan, both of which also have overwhelming demographic problems. However financial contagion and an even greater proliferation and dominance of financial derivatives will mean that the next financial crisis spreads like an Australian bushfire in a 45degree C gale.
      Consequently I believe that the EU will collapse financially and will disintegrate, rendering Brexit irrelevent beyond the next couple of years.

      Reply
    3. Plenue

      This seems like really idealized nostalgia. Thatcher and Reagan were themselves snake oil salesworms, pushers of an ugly, anti-social worldview and at the heads of packs of rabid dogs.

      Reply
  13. Tom Bradford

    “Brexit is the oligarchs’ e.g. Murdoch, grab for everything they can get their grubby paws on. Pure and simple.”

    Can’t agree. Don’t forget the Brexit referendum was called by Cameron – very much the elite’s handmaiden – in the confident expectation that Brexit would lose, and Murdoch with his ilk are already comfortably winning the game so changing the rules is not in their interest.

    Perhaps the (to me) incomprehensible support for Brexit together with the (to me) incomprehensible levels of support for Johnson and Trump are, rather, an attempt by a sizeable chunk of the populations of the UK and the US to themselves change those rules in order to discomfort the rulers.

    It isn’t HRH’s job to express an opinion on Brexit. It’s her job to pick up the pieces in the event of a total constitutional breakdown – such as the suggestion that a rump Parliament should be set up across the road from Westminster should Johnson try to prorogue Parliament in order to force no-deal through.

    Reply
    1. Anonymous2

      Murdoch long pressed for a referendum (even when Major was PM) and had his most influential paper – the Sun – campaign for Leave. He was seen afterwards celebrating with Farage (in the London garden of a Russian oligarch IIRC) so I think it is reasonable to conclude he wanted change. One of his concerns was that he could not control the EU the way he believes he can control the UK government..

      In the 1990s Major considered asking the EU to help him to cut back Murdoch’s power. Though Major did not proceed with this plan, it may well be part of the reason why Murdoch became hostile to the EU (having been a supporter in the 1970s).

      Reply
      1. Andy Raushner

        He like all hardcore neoliberals was upset by the 90’s the “EU” wasn’t hard enough neoliberal. They better watch what they wish for. Capital markets collapse in weaves of debt. National states will collapse next, with new tribes replacing the old. Anarchism sticks it’s head into the door, you rang sir????

        Reply
  14. Joe Well

    Is there a term for the kind of next-level-agnotology underpinning Brexit withdrawal discussions in the UK?

    It reminds me of travel companions I’ve had who pretend, for instance, that travel time will be exactly 0, that you can see the Metropolitan Museum of Art in under an hour, that you can simultaneously plan for heavy morning activities and not wake up before 9 a.m., etc. etc. Those people infuriate me and it’s like they’ve taken over the UK. What is the term for that kind of weaponized but pointless denial?

    Reply

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