“We Wargamed the Last Days of Brexit. Here’s What We Found Out.”

Yves here. It seemed fitting to post again on Brexit, if nothing else to commemorate, if that’s the right word, Boris Johnson becoming Prime Minister of the UK Wednesday afternoon.

It’s not a good omen that the EU has felt compelled to debunk Johnson’s campaign claims about Brexit that have been taken up again by allies. From the Guardian:

Boris Johnson’s claims that crashing out of the EU with no deal would be less painful because of a series of “side deals” that the UK has already done with Brussels have been dismissed as “rubbish” by the EU….

Iain Duncan Smith referred to 17 side deals on the table while the former chancellor Norman Lamont told Sky News hours after Johnson won the Tory leadership contest that “there is no such thing as no deal” as there were “all sorts of side deals that were done”.

A senior EU official described the claims of side deals as “pure rubbish”, pointing out that the so-called deals are unilateral positions taken by the EU alone to keep the basics functioning on their side of the border.

Michel Barnier apparently saw the need to remind Johnson that the Withdrawal Agreement was the only deal on offer:

Other EU leaders were more pointed. From the Independent:

The EU has shot down Boris Johnson’s Brexit plan within moments of his appointment as Tory leader, in the latest sign that the bloc has no plans to make concessions.

In an intervention timed to coincide with Mr Johnson’s election announcement, Frans Timmermans, the European Commission’s first vice president, told reporters in Brussels that the EU would not renegotiate the deal reached with Theresa May.

Another EU commissioner, Vytenis Andriukaitis, also warned that politicians like Mr Johnson were undermining democracy with “cheap promises, simplified visions, blatantly evident incorrect statements”.

A new article at Politico takes up the theme that EU leaders see Johnson as a joke:

After years of laughing at him, Europeans simply don’t take Johnson seriously. At this stage, it’s difficult to imagine what could change their minds.

While Europeans may take delight in lampooning Donald Trump, they also respect (and fear) the power of his office…

But no one’s afraid of Johnson.

Though the U.K. remains a key strategic player within Europe, that reliance cuts across both sides of the Channel. Following the seizure of a British-flagged oil tanker by Iran last week, for example, the U.K. responded by calling for a European naval force to protect sea routes in the Strait of Hormuz.

When it comes to the economy, the U.K. is far more dependent on the EU than vice versa.

That’s why Europe’s response to Johnson’s threat to leave the EU come what may on October 31, deal or no deal, has been a polite yawn.

Corbyn has promised a “surprise” no confidence motion (huh?) but it’s not clear his fellow MPs would be keen to have elections now, given how badly Labour has been polling. Bloomberg reports that Johnson said he won’t call a snap election.

To elicit further reader input, we’re posting yet another Brexit piece that has us scratching our heads. It describes how the Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen and the ERSTE Foundation in Vienna set up a large team that was diverse by background, nationality, and political views, to “wargame” Brexit.

What is frustrating is that the effort got so much right in terms of how it assigned roles and set parameters, but got one part disastrously wrong: that Brexit is a default, and the Government has to either sign the Withdrawal Agreement, ask for an extension, or revoke Article 50 to prevent an October 31 departure. By making Parliament the focus of the wargame, the exercise had the effect of getting the participants to see Parliament as in charge when it isn’t.

This is consistent with the fact that Parliament isn’t taking steps sufficient to prevent a crashout and seems to be kidding itself about the effectiveness of its gambits to date. Only legislation instructing the Prime Minister could do that. Mere motions or the blocking of particular avenues, like keeping the Government from proroguing Parliament, aren’t adequate. The fact that MPs aren’t objecting to the normal summer recess or the expected September break for party caucuses is a sign of unseriousness.

If Johnson were clever and determined to have his Brexit, he’s minimize but not entirely eliminate Parliamentary time for Brexit. Of course, MPs could try to add a “no crashout” amendment to another bit of legislation. Could Johnson schedule any “must have early on” bills for early in the session, before enough MPs realize only legislation can stop a no deal if that’s what Johnson wants or winds up stumbling into?

As you’ll see, the wargame results in vote for a second referendum. It’s hard to see that happening by the end of October, or even year end, if for some reason the UK asks for an extension and the EU agrees to a short one. And it’s hard to see a second referendum solving anything. The tacit assumption is that UK voters will reverse themselves, but what if they don’t? And I’ve yet to see how to formulate second referendum questions to get at what “Leave” means.

And statements like this don’t help the second referendum cause. It comes off at too close to saying a second referendum result reaffirming Leave would not be acceptable:

By Luke Cooper, a Senior Lecturer in International Politics at Anglia Ruskin University and a Visiting Fellow on the Europe’s Futures programme at the IWM in 2018 – 2019. He is currently writing a book on the crisis of the European Union. @lukecooper100. Originally published at openDemocracy

Scenario planning plays an important role in modern politics. Political contestation is the art of out-manoeuvring opponents. By attempting to anticipate the moves they will make in response to events and problems, party leaderships or factions plan for possible eventualities. They seek to defeat the other side by outwitting them strategically. Simulation games are aimed at helping these efforts by building up a picture of how their opponents behave.

Interpretive Hypotheses

Such games can hone strategic thinking, but they are, of course, necessarily imperfect, ‘probabilistic’ exercises. However well scenarios are prepared for there will always be too many variables for us to ‘know’ the future. There are simply too many possible events and factors that might occur, and interact in unique, complex and contingent ways, for us to be entirely sure what the actual course of history will be. E.H. Carr made this point in his famous text, What is History? Carr argued that, by the middle of the twentieth century, historians had abandoned determinism and were now more modest in their goals. ‘Content to inquire how things work’, as he put it.[i]

Rather than believing the goal of an enquiry into the past was to achieve certainty about the course of events in the future, Carr instead proposed a method based on hypothesis and interpretation. For Carr a good hypothesis constituted a ‘tool of thought, valid in so far as it is illuminating, and dependent for its validity on interpretation’.[ii] The logic of this principle was simple. History does not follow a strict determinism. But neither is anything possible. Drawing on Carr we might say that any study of a political process requires interpreting the mix of interests and circumstances in order to illuminate how exactly it evolves over time. Carr serves as a useful frame for a simulation game exercise.

The Brexit Simulation

A group of us recently participated in a simulation game to model the future of the Brexit process. By assuming different roles amongst the forces in conflict over the future of the United Kingdom, we hoped to gain a greater understanding of the process and what might come next. We solicited the help of Richard Barbrook, an academic at Westminster University, and director of Digital Liberties, a UK-based cooperative that has pioneered the use of participatory simulations to anticipate political scenarios. His book, Class Wargames, applies the ideas of the French situationist, Guy Debord, who advocated the use of strategy games as performative, even theatrical, exercises to understand one’s political opponents and their strategic thinking. Barbrook designed the game, which he called, Meaningful Votes: The Brexit Simulation.

Collaborating on this initiative with the Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen (IWM) and the ERSTE Foundation in Vienna we assembled a group of participants in Vienna comprised of civil society, journalists, academics and intellectuals.They were a mixture of nationalities, from Austria, the Balkans, the United States and Britain, and held a plurality of political views from left to right. For mainland European participants the game provided an opportunity to empirically rationalise a crisis that many had found inexplicable; for example, the refusal hitherto of the British parties to find a compromise on Brexit in Parliament is highly alien to those used to the political systems with a culture of building consensus (often with proportional representation), that exist in Germany, the Netherlands and Austria. Each participant took on the role of a faction within Parliament with the game beginning after the defeat of the heavy defeat of the First Meaningful Vote on 15 January 2019.

Simulating the Factions

As Brexit has radically disrupted the existing British party system, the factional roles assumed by players did not tend to align with a particular party leadership. Instead different Tory and Labour factions were represented within the game. Each player had a series of votes allocated in the British Parliament. Larger factions had two different vote allocations: ‘waverers’ and diehards. They could potentially cast these votes in different directions. Another element of the game design lay in a consciously British-centric approach. An assumption underpinning the game was that the EU side would act as, in gaming-terms, a ‘dummy-player’. This refers to when an actor is present within a scenario, who does not face choices that affect the overall arc of the decision pathway. With modifications to the Withdrawal Agreement persistently ruled out by the EU, had players assumed this vantage point they would not have faced any choices. As a dummy-player, the umpire thus articulated the position of the EU-27 states at key decision-making points across the game.

Following the playful spirit of Debord’s legacy, this really was a game.Players accumulated points in relation to different votes passing and goals being reached. Some had hidden objectives that were revealed at the end of the game, identifying a potential conflict between the public statements of factions and their underlying motivations. The ‘winner’ had the most points at the end of the game.

Towards ‘No Brexit’

So what happened? And what did we learn from this exercise?

The outcome of the game eventually resolved itself in a new referendum. By this stage the game had moved into the near future of early autumn 2019. The cross-party negotiations had failed to reach a breakthrough acceptable to both leaderships. Softer members of the Tory Brexit Delivery Group then split away from the party leadership, crossing the floor to support a new referendum. Interestingly, this came as a surprise to the game designer, Barbrook, who had anticipated a stalemate and a further extension of Article 50 at the end of October 2019.

If this suggests the game had a Remain bias, other moments in the scenario serve to refute this. At an earlier moment in the game a majority emerged in Parliament in spite of opposition from Labour and the Remain parties, for the kind of technological solution to the Irish border question favoured by the ERG as an alternative to the troubled ‘Irish backstop’. Assuming the dummy-player function, the EU then intervened via the umpire into the Parliamentary scenario to rule out an agreement without the backstop. With Parliament then voting against leaving without a deal, the political factions were confronted with the same problem they have at the current time.

The crux of this decision is ultimately a narrow one: few options are still available to parties, making the outcome relatively straightforward to model. Leave on the deal May has negotiated with the EU, which is unpopular with Brexit voters and with Labour Remain voters who would like a second referendum. Or negotiate changes to the UK-future relationship document (the Withdrawal Agreement will not be reopened by the EU) to make the Brexit deal softer, making it more palatable for the Labour Party but even less acceptable to Brexit voters and Brexiters in the Tory party. As the changes are not legally binding on a future Tory prime minister even a Labour Party leadership wishing to ‘deliver Brexit’ has little incentive to support such a deal. This leaves only two further choices. Hold new elections in the hope they might produce a balance in the Parliament more conducive to striking a deal. Or, move towards a new referendum, which includes the opportunity to remain in the EU.

Globalisation, Brexit and Strategic Choices

The outcome of the game is not an exact prediction of events in the near future. One player’s calculation that at a certain stage the mainstream of the Tory party will have to try and ‘move on’ from Brexit by peeling off towards a referendum is what Carr called an interpretive hypothesis. It will be tested in the months ahead.

Rather the game offers an insight into the interests that will shape this and the core contradiction underpinning the process: that there is not a tangible, pragmatic form of Brexit acceptable to the people that want Brexit. The vote in the game for ‘technological solutions to the Irish border’ was analogous with, though not identical to, Parliament’s vote on the 30 January 2019 for the ‘Brady amendment’, which mandated the government to seek changes to the Irish backstop as a condition for passing the Withdrawal Agreement. Having passed by 317 votes to 301, Theresa May hailed it as demonstrating a ‘substantial and sustainable majority’ for leaving the EU. When the EU insisted on the Irish backstop, the refusal of the hard Brexiters and the DUP to compromise forced a logic of events that points increasingly to ‘no Brexit’.

Underpinning this is a mistaken conception of how sovereignty operates in the twenty-first century. No state, however powerful, enjoys absolute sovereignty. All states are constrained by economic and political forces beyond their border. Larger states or geopolitical blocs, such as the European Union, China, or the United States, have significantly more power to ‘shape’ the way globalisation works and operates. Britain would have to make steep concessions to these larger blocs to get a trade deal. The game successfully modelled this geopolitical logic by demonstrating – through the existence of the EU as a ‘dummy player’ – the limitations placed on UK Parliamentary sovereignty by the fact of its international relations with the wider world.

Leave campaign rhetoric about taking back control comes into contradiction with this material reality. In all Brexit scenarios, exiting the EU entails a loss of substantive sovereignty for Britain. Even the ‘no deal’ Brexit preferred by hardline Leavers would lead to Britain signing a deal on less advantageous terms shortly after the exit – perhaps in as little as ten days depending on the scale of the economic dislocation. Once the legal uncertainty and accompanying economic turmoil is experienced any government would be under huge pressure to end the chaos by striking an agreement with the EU. On the other hand, the Brexit process has also demonstrated the maximising-effect of EU membership for sovereign states: Ireland has been in a far stronger position to protect the open border with the North and the Good Friday Agreement because of the clear support of 26 other EU member-states.

Constrained Political Choices

Many people are rightly concerned about a Boris Johnson premiership. He has an appalling record of racist statements and seems motivated by little else than narcissism and personal ambition. Nonetheless, it is debatable whether there would, in the end, be a practical difference between the Brexit he pursues compared to that of his rival, Jeremy Hunt. Ultimately they inherit constrained political choices.

If a no deal, which would be an electoral disaster for any PM and would not even result in the kind of total break with the EU for which it is designed, is taken off the table, there are few remaining options. Johnson could negotiate cosmetic adjustments to the Withdrawal Agreement (akin to the ‘reassurances’ on the backstop May received prior to Meaningful Vote #3) and present these as ‘new’ changes. He could then attempt to get these through Parliament. He would need enough support from rebels on the Labour side to cancel out the Tory and DUP dissenters. This is his clearest route to ‘delivering Brexit’ by October 31.

If this fails he can then fight either an election or a referendum to ‘deliver the deal’. The choice between the two will surely be determined by the state of opinion polling at the time, with the striking rise of the Brexit Party making any voluntary move to an election by the Tories unlikely. As for a referendum, what the game did not tell us, of course, is its likely outcome. Remain will start as favourites, given the long-term shift in the polling away from Leave, but the margins are tight and contingent events can intervene. Victory is far from assured.

In Search of Reason

It can often feel that the Brexit process has unleashed euphoric, unreal, deeply performative, and rhetorical politics. A politics that is incapable of being rationalised in terms of interests and goals. But the game assisted us in comprehending the micro-nationalities operating within the logics of this evolving situation. ‘[W]e achieve understanding by reenacting its history in miniature’, as Debord argued.[i] Out-gaming the other side requires tactical insight into the assumptions underpinning their behaviour. While this could lead to the game becoming an end in itself, this political conflict still has to resolve itself on a normative set of assumptions: deciding on the best outcome desired for the country is the only basis from which rational compromises can be worked through in order to achieve the best possible scenario. The refusal of Brexiters to compromise, and their use of rhetorical devices to harden opposition to May’s deal amongst Leave voters, reduces the scope for a compromise. It risks triggering a decision tree that leads squarely to a ‘no Brexit’ situation.

Time plays an important role in this process. Barbrook had envisaged that the game would end with a stalemate in October 2019 as Britain asked the EU for a further extension. But the different outcome players arrived at illustrated how the micro-rationalities animating their decisions eventually had to break. Although it may seem like the Brexit impasse will last for time immemorial, eventually the passing of time requires one of the competing factions to splinter away from their preferred outcome. There does seem to be a prima facie case for assuming this will eventually be mainstream Conservative politicians. As the governing party, they feel the stresses of state-management and power politics in a way that the opposition simply do not.

Is Britain on a path to no Brexit? We will soon find out if this interpretive hypothesis has captured the logic of the country’s vexed attempt to leave the EU.

[i] E.H. Carr, 2018. What is History? Penguin Modern Classics (epub version): New York, p. 223.

[ii] Ibid, p. 224.

[iii] Guy Debord, The Game of War, Unpopular Books: Poplar, p. 61.

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  1. Redlife2017

    Thanks for the intro to the article, Yves. You’ve very much hit the nail on the head.

    I’ve desperately tried to get people around the fact that Johnson has ways to just not do anything and let no-deal happen. OK, so they say he can’t prorogue Parliament. But why would he have to allow time for anything? And since no one kicked up a fuss (I am looking at YOU, Jeremy Corbyn) about the summer break and conference break, it tells me everyone keeps thinking “but you can’t DO THAT, because,uh, norms”. If it’s legal, why wouldn’t he? He was elected by his party overwhelmingly to have Brexit by 31 October. And of course he won’t call a snap election, he would be destroyed by the Brexit Party. And rightfully so, as he bloody well campaigned to be Tory leader on the basis that he would bring Brexit by Halloween come hell or high water. Dude has been painted into a corner by himself and others. He is the Bringer of Brexit!

    I will seperately note my total dissapointment in Corbyn not stomping on the fact that we obviously need to have Parliament in session until the end of October. What is it about a national emergency that he doesn’t get? I’ve been to plenty of speeches by him (lots). But he just can’t see that we can’t get to what he wants (policy wise) until we get through Brexit…

      1. Redlife2017

        Very fair point! To be a bit philosophical: Brexit will always be there within the psyche. It will be within the British people and land and it will show up in this landscape (politically, economically, socially) in a non-linear way. In that the past (decisions) will pop up within the future and present as if the past (decisions) are happening at that moment or in the future. It isn’t something to escape. It is something that is foundation shaking and creating. All encompassing. Yet, like many things born of the subconscious it isn’t always there at the forefront (but is always there ready to pounce on all of us). Maybe Brexit is a journey and an archetype and wrath of the gods all rolled into one?

        Saying all that – in the short-term we do have linear problems / timescales. We must get through this inflection point (the exit or revoke decision) in order to move to the next stage of UK life and its relationship to Brexit. From my childhood in Iowa, this inflection point is at the point known as “sh*t or get off the pot.” We are prevaricating and a decision for better or worse must be made. Corbyn can’t get anything from the manifesto until this part of Brexit is resolved (and some will question if he can anyway as Brexit nails the UK economy, but that’s another discussion). Brexit itself is not a thing to resolve. But the question at hand (2nd ref, no-deal, withdrawal agreement, revoke article 50) is one that can be which will then lead to the next inflection point.

        And on a personal note, I have noticed over the past month that many more restaurants are going out of business, on roads that are busy (such as Holloway Road and Upper Street in Islington). And even in the City I’ve been seeing restaurants just closing up. These aren’t the OMG amazing restaurants, but the ones that are nice to go to occasionally and have friendly people or just a place to get a fast lunch. In short order, it’s gonna start looking like 1982 around my neck of the woods (if we’re lucky). No matter what happens, it has already happened. Dark times are ahead and we are bound for a reckoning.

        1. Paul O

          I think I agree – certainly with much of it.

          Though I am not clear that Corbyn has any ready options for policy change – or that he ever did (though perhaps a somewhat more deliverable alternative at the outset would have run better). I have not seen anything suggested that is not immediately shot down in a fairly convincing manner – not least here. I don’t see that he ever had a role as savior.

          1. Redlife2017

            Paul – I agree with the thought that Corbyn couldn’t have stopped anything. I actually feel a lot of sympathy for him as he is a wonderful man (I’ve met him and I know people who know him well). He has been attacked in such a savage way (including his wife, Laura) and yet has the most amazing sense of purpose. He can look you in the eye and tell you we are going to get through this. And let me tell you, I have rarely met a person who can say it so sincerely and honestly who is also a politician. He has an amazing sense of self and his connection to the body politic is a real connection. He is, for lack of a better phrase, the real deal.

            This is just a particular unhappiness with him not screaming about going on break. I saw him last week speaking and trust me, it’s like the thought hadn’t occurred to him that we shouldn’t go on break. The dude is very capable of real anger and I wish he would deploy it in this very specific instance. Get everyone you can to yell that we MUST NOT HAVE A BREAK. It might (oh, small percentage) at least get people engaged in kicking BoJo as they could have fun attacking him as lazy. And then maybe they would go: “Hmmm. Why are we having a break. Shouldn’t we be working through this??” But everyone seems to think this isn’t an emergency. And general thinking is in short supply (especially in our journalist “friends”).

            1. Paul O

              Useful. Thank you. I am a Labour member and quite politically aware – in terms of upbringing, education and reading. But I don’t mix in political circles and the media are hardly a reliable guide – though I am able to debunk most of the negative.

        2. Colonel Smithers

          Thank you, Redlife.

          With regard to restaurants, I see the same, in Buckinghamshire, Oxfordshire and west London. Also, shops and homelessness. Rellies visiting from overseas are also staggered.

          As for a reckoning, I think that Brexit or no Brexit, we are due that. It’s only a matter of time.

          One looks forward to seeing you on Friday.

    1. vlade

      Yup, on all counts.

      I wrote it here before, will write it again. The only workable _attempt_ (and it’s important to know it’s just an attempt, it’s not anything that is guaranteed to work) is to get a no-confidence vote in.

      That may result in either a new PM – maybe. The convention is that existing PM nominates the new one. But it’s _only_ a convention (hello unwritten constitution!), which is worth absolutely nothing in practical terms.

      So Johnson can just sit out the 14 days period and force a GE. If it’s done when they come back from recess (Sep 3), that basically means elections just before Oct 31. The only person who then could really ask for an extension then remains the PM or the monarch (I wrote monarch explicitly, as given that Queen is 90+, it’s not entirely impossible that Charles would be the King come October, which may throw the spanner into the works a bit more). No extension is most likely result here, with GE and a crashout (which may be fun, as there may be no majority government, or even no viable coalition).

      It’s possible that the EU would try to pretend in this case the extension was unilateraly granted on an emergency basis (well, who would call the legality of it into question, and even if they did, would it matter in the end?).

      1. Redlife2017

        I suspect (but who knows at this point with everything so chaotic) that the EU (based purely on past form) would give an automatic extension if the UK is in total governmental meltdown. By meltdown I use your description in your 3rd paragraph.

        But if BoJo is stomping around and saying no deal up until near end of October and he has an almost government, then the EU gains zilch through extend and pretend.

        A lot really rides on the Tories who keep promising that they will trash the BoJo government. But I’ve noticed how this has been walked back already by insisting that he have through August until Parliament meets in September to get stuff done. What stuff is that you ask? Uh, dunno. I saw one report in the Daily Telegraph that said they weren’t going to let Boris talk to anyone in Europe ’cause he’s, uh, sensitive? Useless? I’m not sure what August is supposed to be used for, unless it’s for Boris to order new dinnerware for Number 10.

        I’d say we’re f***ed, but that would require rudimentary planning and movement of some variety. We’re not even moving in bloody circles anymore. Unless you count going down the drain…

        1. Ataraxite

          Ah, but the UK has to agree to an extension per Article 50. And it may not be able to if, as you say, the government is “in meltdown”. The EU can’t unilaterally extend the Article 50 deadline, even if it wanted to.

          1. vlade

            It can, it just won’t be technically legal (under the EU treaty), and someone can (and most likely would) attack it.

            But any legal attack would matter only if say ECJ was able to rule on it immediately and order the Council to “cease and desist”. But these things do not generally operate at the speed where it would matter, if say the EU gave a unilateral extension of two weeks to form a government. Which could be, for example, argued as necessary on “national security” basis.

            1. David

              The interesting question, given how European states work, is whether the Council could take a decision which was clearly beyond their powers under Art 50, and knowing that it was. The chances of one of the 27 states have internal, unresolvable, problems with that seems quite high. I suspect that there would have to be some epic fudge in the form of a Council decision which stopped the clock in practice, without appearing to do so in theory. I can’t wait.

              1. vlade

                I agree that the fudge would be possible is depends on the whole Council agreeing to it, which is far from given. I still believe it’s likely as long as an extension is for a few days to get a GE result, but nothing more. Anything over say two weeks is IMO unrealistic (unlike a legal, asked for, extension, which I could see granted to Dec 31).

                1. Yves Smith Post author

                  Yes, Macron (and his two allies, Spain and I forget who else) are looking like they made the right call in being negative on an extension, or at least anything other than a short one. And that Iranian tankers stunt hasn’t increased Spanish good will towards the UK. I can see them insisting on stringency….whatever that might mean in this context.

                  1. vlade

                    It’d be actually an interesting comparison, if it was possible – better (for the EU) a no-deal in April, or a no-deal in November? For the UK, I believe April would have been better. Well, not “the UK”, but the UK companies that made preparations for April no-deal. I doubt they can repeat the same for November (for example, the carmakers already used up the staff-hols, doing it again will be a double whammy, warehouses are harder to come by in November than April etc. etc.).

                    For the EU, the situation may be different, if Ireland/France/Dutch managed to do more on the no-deal preparation (the UK did zilch IMO – the top civil servant supposed to run the show quit end of June, and they weren’t doing much to start with)

                    1. PlutoniumKun

                      I don’t think there is much doubt that the later date benefits the EU more. The issue of warehousing seems to be key for the UK – late October is when they are all fully stocked for Christmas, so there is little leeway for retailers and others to keep stocks higher than normal. Plus its a higher period for food imports for winter veg. Plus they can’t ‘bring forward’ summer holiday periods as they did in Spring. While they haven’t done near enough, Irish industry has definitely been advancing more plans for seeking alternatives to the UK and some of the new ferry services are now operational.

          2. John Jones

            I think this is the “come to Jesus” point that Johnson wants – He will endeavour to use Article 50 against the EU fir his brexit benefit not the EU.

            The appointment of Cummings confirms , in.so many ways, a no deal Brexit.

            The next question to the EU ” do you feel lucky punk”?

            I’d guess a fudge /kludge is being baked into the equation already given both the UKs (mainly ) but EUs lack of preparedness for a no deal.

            1. vlade

              Neither the EU nor the UK can be ever fully prepared for a no-deal Brexit, as no-one really knows what all the implications are.

              But the EU is WAY ahead of the UK (the UK is still, at best, in the plannig stages, and a few of the central civil servants that were tasked with this quit in the last two months, so in general it’s not in a great shape).

              It’s likely that the no-deal triggers recession in the EU, as the economy is already fairly weak.

              But unless very very quickly resolved, it will kill the UK’s economy stone dead.

              The carmakers will be IMO gone within 6-12 months, and with them about 1m jobs (direct and indirect). Lawyers, consultants and a whole bunch of service industries will be either out of the business or relocated on the same timeframe. Those are relatively few direct jobs, but a lot of indirect jobs serving them will go too.

              The EU assumes that under this the UK will buckle pretty pronto and will have to go back to the negotiation table. They could be wrong, game of chicken can very well have no victor. But if they are wrong, chances are it will be worse yet for both sides.

            2. rd

              Other than Cheddar cheese, what does Britain provide to the EU that cannot be replaced by other entities within the EU?

              The EU already has trade agreements with other countries around the world as well as having a large existing worker, industrial, and finance base. Capacity for a number of things can probably be ramped up pretty fast in the EU, faster than a trade deal could be negotiated with Britain.

                1. F.Korning

                  Great example. The UK, for all its bravado about protecting its agriculture and fisheries, is actually quite timid with respect to AOC type provisions. It has only 12 recognized cheeses to France’s 365, of which simple “Cheddar” is not really protected has been co-opted by everyone. Only ‘Westcountry Cheddar” is recognized, but how does that even matter if everybody make their own Cheddar?

                  Then again, the demand just wasn’t there to be all that discrminating. How low can grastronomical standards be when sauce is refered to by colour (brown sauce, red sauce, etc). ?

                  1. Paul O

                    Gastronomy is absolutely thriving in the UK. The local produce available in my local area (Somerset inc. Cheddar) is incredible.

                    Though I don’t say this in response to any of the above debate.

              1. Fazal Majid

                Far worse than just a recession. Things like insulin supplies that lives depend on, including Theresa May’s.

                The most likely scenario is a crash-out wreckxit, followed by weeks of chaos, the government falling and the next crawling back to the EU asking for essentially the terms of the withdrawal agreement. The Brexiters will nurse a “stabbed in the back” grievance similar to the one that dogged the Weimar Republic.

                1. Yves Smith Post author

                  With Greece when its banking system was effectively closed in 2015, the EU powers that be did make sure that insulin and other critical medicines were supplied. I recall reading that measures have been taken to assure insulin supplies. But any other “important but you aren’t at obvious risk of death if you miss taking them” meds are a different matter.

              2. Fazal Majid

                As it turns out, Ireland produces a lot of cheddar and will need an economic boost…

      2. ChrisPacific

        Funny you should mention Charles. The Queen seems to have been hewing to a studious neutrality and/or silence throughout, but I was looking at Charles on Twitter recently for some reason and he has been doing anything but. Admittedly it’s been sarcastic sniping rather than any explicit policy opinion, but it’s not difficult to discern his viewpoint. He may yet come to regret it all if he has the crown suddenly thrust upon him at the very moment he is asked to take momentous action.

        1. vlade

          The Queen has been around for so long that her not being here is taken as a weird. But she is 93, and can die, or become incapacitated, any day now, with Charles taking the crown or Regency. Which would be fun..

          1. bruce

            This Queen is potentially immortal due to advances in robotics, speech AI and taxidermy.

              1. Anonymous2

                HM’s mother lived past 100 so she may well do the same.

                Willpower and having something to live for play a part in keeping very old people alive. My hunch is, given that HM knows Murdoch has ambitions to destroy the monarchy, she is determined to outlive him or at least see him well into his dotage.

        2. Rob

          I have to wonder, irrespective of the queen’s position on EU membership, what she is feeling now that the Union is looking ever more on shaky ground.

          1. Anonymous2

            Furious, I would imagine.

            I have never bought the narrative that she is a Europhobe. That was put around by Gove. He is both a politician and a journalist in the Murdoch press. Which are the two least trusted groups in the UK? Politicians and journalists. And with good reason.

        3. RBHoughton

          The Queen said on taking the job that she would pursue the policies of her father and grandfather. In fact she has not done that but rather taken a pleasant rest. Had she performed her agreement she would involve herself as her ancestors did in settling the political difficulties of the day.

    2. bruce

      You are erroneously assuming rational actors. Just the other day, your new PM was the subject of a frantic police call from frightened neighbors who heard him through the walls hollering at his concubine “Get off my f***ing laptop!”. A gentleman would never have done that. I would have said “Honey, could you please elevate your ample stern an inch or two for just a second so that I can retrieve my computer?” That’s how I avoid getting my name in the papers. You are in uncharted waters, terra incognita now.

  2. skippy

    Ummm …. in the oldie NC perspective …. ridged ideologues throws “toys out of play pen” in the expectation that counter parties will give into the child demands …. just so the adults can move beyond the moment …. for a moment …

  3. Clive

    Yes, this putting Parliament front and centre when it is at best a bit-player is a category mistake.

    Even, for example, the “Parliament must be made to sit for a week in October” ammendment which was tacked on to a Northern Ireland bill is limited. Johnson could simply jettison the bill. The amendment dissappear in a puff of constitutional smoke with it.

    It can’t be said often enough: the UK’s Parliament doesn’t function like a typical European Parliament does. Nor like the US Congress does. Japan’s Parliament comes closest, but that’s about it.

    1. Fazal Majid

      They lost all credibility when they mentioned Guy Debord and the Situationist International as a serious social-science methodology, as opposed to performance art.

  4. PlutoniumKun

    Its a useful exercise, but I think very limited in usefulness for two reasons – one is that the dynamic will intensify in September/October, especially if Mr. Market gets worried (especially with Sterling), and secondly, it assumes a certain level of knowledge/rationality which is just not there. I don’t mean to suggest everyone is stupid, its just that the most marked feature of Brexit has been a failure of all sides in the UK to simply understand the process and whats at stake. Its perfectly clear that there are far too many misconceptions out there to think that any of the main players will make sensible and rational decisions.

    The best analogy for Brexit i think are well known military disasters such as as the Battle of France or Market Garden, which (if stories are true) have never been able to be replicated in war games. Too many chance occurrences tied in with groupthink and stupidity resulted in outcomes which were literally unpredictable.

    1. vlade

      Actually, on your last para – the outcomes were really predictable (that’s why General Browning called it a ‘Bridge Too Far’, and so it proved, capturing two out of three bridges they needed), predicted, but predictions ignored. The fascinating thing on Market Garden is not that it failed, but that it came so close to succeeding. As an aside, the main driver behind MG was the overrated Englishman Monty, who IMO cared way more for his PR than his strategic or tactical skills.

      If you want unpredictable and unrepeatable, try Midway :).

      1. PlutoniumKun

        Funnily enough, I actually typed Midway first and then changed my mind! Yes, it was actually Midway I was thinking in terms of unpredictability. I can’t recall where I read it, but I’ve heard it said that no military academy has ever been able to war-game a fast German victory in the Battle of France, or a US victory in Midway. Market Garden is famous for apparently everyone being aware of the awfulness of the plan, just nobody seemed to be able to stop it – the classic case study in groupthink.

      2. paul

        Are these happenings equivalent?
        We are not war with anyone but the weakest (We = ruling class).

        I sometimes think you war buffs want to generalise the youthful playground.

        1. vlade

          Not sure I understand.

          War is, ultimately, an exercise in planning. It’s also one of the most chaotic environments to plan in.

          All the failure, and most of the sucess modes mean a lot of people die, and all the planners know it up-front, so the stakes are much higher than for just about any other activity.

          So no, not child’s playground.
          More like the ultimate test ground.

          Although unfortunately, way too often approached as a playground.

          1. paul

            Meaning not war (peace as it used to be used) is better than war?

            Try living in a war zone designated by others.

            But,if you think shit just happens because we are all flawed, then we are outside and should wait and ponder our repetitive mistakes.

            1. vlade

              Was anyone in the above implying war is good? And, FYI, I was (for more than a few days) in a couple of warzones.

              Should we, just because war is horrible, ignore any and all experience and lessons we can draw from it?

              And your last sentence is a total nonsense. Shit does happen, including because we’re flawed. But without pondering our repetitive mistakes those mistakes will never end. So are you claiming shit doesn’t happen, we’re pefect, or that there’s no value in trying to learn from past mistakes?

              1. paul

                Was anyone in the above implying war is good? And, FYI, I was (for more than a few days) in a couple of warzones.

                good for you, was the war good bad or neither for those unquantified days, and did it make you an expert in those unquantified days?

                Should we, just because war is horrible, ignore any and all experience and lessons we can draw from it?

                Ruminating about past circumstances has its value, and you have done your share, however have not heard a single lesson from your study.

                If you consider me unfair, please indicate our good progress.

                And your last sentence is a total nonsense. Shit does happen, including because we’re flawed. But without pondering our repetitive mistakes those mistakes will never end. So are you claiming shit doesn’t happen, we’re pefect, or that there’s no value in trying to learn from past mistakes?

        2. The Rev Kev

          Better to be a war buff then to be caught by a war in the buff! Military studies are fascinating as they combine technical puzzles along with people stories. PK mentioned Market Garden so here is a people story.
          The radios that the British used in the deserts refused to work in Europe itself so the Paras were out of contact with anybody south of them. But if one of those paras had just gone into any house and asked to borrow a telephone, he would have found that the phones still worked and could have rang HQ.
          Here is a technical aspect. Can 140 courageous men defeat 4,000 courageous men? Well no, they can’t but sometimes they do and that gives you a Rorke’s Drift. It is like I read once. You may have a professional dancer who would be fascinated in the dance routines that the Aztecs used in their blood sacrifices but that does not imply that they approve of the reason for those Aztec dances.

          1. paul

            You may have a professional dancer who would be fascinated in the dance routines that the Aztecs used in their blood sacrifices but that does not imply that they approve of the reason for those Aztec dances.

            We are here, not then, so a professional dancer would appreciate the discipline of the form, not its martial purpose.

            It’s a bit like the moonshoot slushfund(please provide …….concrete material benefits here…., ) which evaporated with the end of the official vietnam war,to the month.

            If martial innovation is to be our driver we have surrendered to it, in our hearts, if not our minds.

            Polls suggest* we vote with our hearts

            *polls are a business therefore not completely trustworthy

              1. VietnamVet

                The actions of the United Kingdom and the United States are so aggressively weird that Caitlin Johnstone must be correct. Our minds chose cognitive ease over discomfort. The consequences of Brexit, the restart of the Cold War with Russia, the Right to Protect, the Tariff Wars, or the seizure of a tanker of Iranian oil off of Gibraltar are so dire that we deny that “we’re in a chaotic world where many of the most materially prosperous people are also the most depraved and sociopathic, and that we could be next in line to be victimized by them”. The USA has been at war since 2001 (224 out of its 243 Years). The Atlantic Alliance can’t stop its self-destruction to give peace a chance.

    2. David

      I’ve run these sorts of exercises myself over the years and they can be useful teaching aids. The main lesson students take away is that the evolution of crises depends overwhelmingly on interactions between individuals, varying enormously in capability, personality and view of the objective. That holds true to some extent in real life too -everybody accepts that the dynamics are different with Johnson as opposed to May for example. But the difference is that in games the players usually have a coherent objective and make an effort to learn the rules. The really worrying thing about Brexit is that most of the players don’t really understand the rules and have no clear idea what they want. And in distinction to military war games, which I’ve also played a lot, there are more than two ‘sides’ and it’s hard to be sure what ´winning’ would mean.

    3. Fazal Majid

      I think Gallipoli is a better example. Contempt for the enemy (driven by not a little racism, ironic since Boris himself is one eighth Turkish) leading to overconfidence, and the availability of disposable cannon-fodder (the ANZAC then, the British brexiteer plebs today).

    1. wilroncanada

      Isis can’t be unemployed, anonymous, because they’re on permanent contract to the CIA and Mossad. Each of the name changes are on the advice of certain long-time Middle East meddlers. It’s like the old “diplomacy” joke about disguises: I wonder who’s Kissinger now?

  5. jackiebass

    Boris reminds me of Trump because he is a master of conning his supporters. Didn’t Boris not that long ago visit Trump? Probably he was schooled on being a bully. It’s a sad day for Britain when the country is in such a crises. I believe Britain has more to lose than the UK in a no deal.

  6. Eustache de Saint Pierre

    I’m sure Bojo is aware of this one liner which I suppose in this case suits his definition of success & how it will likely occur,

    “Success is stumbling from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm.”
    ― Winston S. Churchill

    A sorry tale of an unfolding tragedy as the court fool takes centre stage to rule the mainly incompetent English actors, with unicorns still strutting their stuff with others likely waiting in the wings.

  7. Ataraxite

    Thank you, Yves, for an interesting article.

    If Johnson* does want to go for No Deal – and who can say whether he does – he’ll do so at the last minute, because the only way to get No Deal by design (rather than No Deal by accident, which is also a possibility) is to sideline parliament.

    The way I’d do this, with the obvious caveat that I’m not Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, is to engage with the EU for as long as possible regarding changes to the Withdrawal Agreement, renegotiation of the backstop, tweaks to the Political Declaration. The first two won’t happen, of course, but as long as a path can be imagined (however delusionally) to an orderly exit, then most MPs won’t be willing to make the very consequential decision of voting down the government, or even perhaps instructing the PM to do something.

    Then, in the middle of October, or perhaps even at the final EU Council itself (and I expect some repeats of the critical EU Councils of March and April), the PM could simply decide not to request an extension, and No Deal it is. All hell would break loose, of course, but there’s pretty much nothing that can be done.

    September 3 is the date to watch, per https://twitter.com/theousherwood/status/1153980432171487233 – once that passes, it is no longer possible for a No Confidence vote to pass, and an election to be held prior to the October 31 timeline.

    So, I expect to engagement with the EU for the next couple of months, but once September 3 passes, all bets are off.

    * I refuse to participate in the creation and strengenthing of his confected identity called “Boris”.

    1. Ataraxite

      Actually, I just read that tweet even more closely: the motion of confidence would have to be tabled *tomorrow*, to be debated on September 3, when the Commons returns from its recess. In effect, that means the remainers most potent weapon – bringing down the government – could have already been neutralised.

      1. vlade

        That could be sort of by-passed, maybe. That is, if there’s a GE and it looks like it will have to return MPs post Oct 31 (which is likely, that is, post Oct 31, not the GE), the Parliament could tell the PM to ask for an extention. The PM could tell the to go and hike of course. But then, in theory, the Parliament could humble petition the Queen to do it. It would be a totally unprecedented, so who knows what would happen, but that would be because the PM would have broken all conventions in the first place. So the monarch breaking another convention would IMO be the least.

        Even if that did not happen, if the Parliament would tell the PM to ask for an extension, and PM refuse, I believe that the EU would be willing to go and grant it anyways, and fight any legality questions later (again, who would challenge it, and would it make any difference if the period was short enough?)

        1. Oregoncharles

          And here I thought that in Parliamentary systems, the PM served at the pleasure of Parliament. Silly me.

          1. vlade

            See Clive’s comment above.

            In the UK’s system, the Parliament has no levers over a PM except General Election. Which can be a bit of suicide-bomber threat, given MPs GE does end MPs careers.

            For the last 100 years or so (or more, but at least since early 20th century where the prohibition on members of government being MPs was withdrawn), the Parliament was IMO more or less a governmnet rubber-stamping device.

            The term coined in IIRC 1960s for this was “elective dictatorship”. I.e. if the PM can put together a majority in the Commons, they, with support of party loyalty, run the UK as a dictatorship until the next elections. This is even more true for weak governments, as basically they can be democratically-weak (i.e. representing only a fraction of electorate), but still exercise their powers effectivelly unconstrained.

  8. Tom Doak

    FWIW, I am in Ireland this week, and had to drive through the corner of Northern Ireland on Sunday night to get from Dublin to Co. Donegal. On the outskirts of Monaghan, there was a traffic backup where the road was reduced to one lane for construction, of what appeared to be the start of a layby for border checks, a little bit on the EU side of the line. I took it as a sign that the EU does not like what it’s seeing in the tea leaves.

    1. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you, Tom.

      I drove through Calais three times over the spring and saw the facilities for various inspections, parking and buildings to accommodate trucks, being built. It’s just off the round about leading to Cite Europe from the town centre.

  9. Colonel Smithers

    Thank you, all.

    Well that is a great start to the BoJo premiership. Ireland has just skittled England out at Lord’s.

  10. DJG

    As I keep pointing out, the main reason I read Yves Smith’s remarkable coverage is that the U S of A is one step behind England. As an American, I am watching next year in Morning in America. The English are sniffing the fumes of Empire–the continuing fantasies of straddling the globe even as the British Empire now consists of some islands like Jersey operated as tax havens. This does not bode well, much like Lambert Strether’s frequent reports of how little manufacturing capacity the U S of A has in relation to producing goods now affected by tariffs. England is now prepared to survive on tax cheating and Cadbury creme eggs.

    It is as if one is watching the two neighborhood scolds and spendthrifts (an odd combination of characteristics) opening the cupboard, finding it bare, and ordering Alexa to send replishment. Alexa is a fantasy.

    And because the G family came from deepest darkest Lithuania, land of friendly bees (currently being Monsantoized to death in the US of A), this:

    ‘Another EU commissioner, Vytenis Andriukaitis, also warned that politicians like Mr Johnson were undermining democracy with “cheap promises, simplified visions, blatantly evident incorrect statements”.’

    So here one has a representative of a country of three million inhabitants having to pipe up about what it means to wreck hard-earned democracy. Send him home!

    1. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you,

      Unfortunately for the UK, including chocaholics like me, Cadbury’s is now part of Kraft.

        1. larry

          Not so. You can have a decent Green & Black’s, Fortnum’s, Willy Wonka from Devon, and Hotel Chocolate, to name only a few. There are a couple of others, but for the moment their names don’t come to mind. By the way, I am only considering the dark chocolate.

          And, if you like hot chocolate, you can obtain Hotel Chocolate’s Velvetizer, designed by Dualit.

          1. vlade

            I’ll add Montenzuma’s at Spitalfields.

            G&B is decent for a widely distribued choc, but even Lindt is ok.

            HC issued an interesting bond few years back – that paid no interest, but chocolates.

          2. Fazal Majid

            I have a velvetizer, I can attest to its virtues. As in the US, even if the general standard is dreck (and let’s not forget it is the British who forced the EU to downgrade its chocolate standards by allowing up to 5% margarine, whereas the US does not permit mockolate), there are serious chocolate-makers, like Rococo. Waitrose’s 49% dark milk chocolate bars are simply outstanding.

  11. Alex morfesis

    The withdrawal agreement Or draft suggestion ? Theresa May is not Putin…this narrative naming of an agreed template draft is not and never was “an agreement”…unless the British Prime Minister has some enumerated powers from a non existent British Constitution…

    The EU players club is hanging on by a thread…

    Boris “count dragyoulove” Johnson is a bit more daft than Trumpo and will keep shouting “make way” as he runs his sailboat thru a no wake zone slamming into a number of parked vessels…

    The biggest piece of the puzzle will be the wrestling match with Persia…he probably won’t blink and if the ayatoes decide to back pedal…count dragyoulove will end up with beer muscles and imagine he can drag everyone kicking and screaming to his way or the highway…

    If parliament is as week as clive has described above…this will not end up as anyone is gaming…or planning or imagining

    At critical moments as the end of October, often players and plays feed the background noise…

    China and India go at it during the cuban missile crisis..Hungary uprising during the suez canal invasion…iranian diplomats killed in Afghanistan during 98 crash/currency crash…russian invasion of georgia as global financial markets freeze up…

    Does China send Military into Hong Kong that week ?? Even worse for Chinese red army and communist party…what if the invasion fails ?
    The Wild cards are endless across the globe…does Lula find himself released from Prison ? Do the ayatoes declare war with the sauds….but no one shows up to play ? Does China foolishly assume a passive Indonesia only to back down in a confrontation having drawn too large a map of self proclaimed territory ? The chinese military has never historically done much beyond its immediate borders…the south china sea grab is a dangerous gambit…

    Enuf blahblahblah…the kyffhauser club has walked themselves into a corner and the tories have hired bam-bam to talk it thru…


    1. Yves Smith Post author

      The Withdrawal Agreement is not a draft, Theresa May did agree to the Withdrawal Agreement. As head of state, she committed to a treaty, subject to Parliamentary approval. The WA has been approved in all EU27 states.

    2. Fazal Majid

      The Iranians know since Mossadegh that the UK is a paper tiger. Churchill had to run to Eisenhower to save British oil concessions, but of course the US opted to take them for themselves instead after orchestrating the coup that brought the Shah back for two decades.

  12. bruce

    I have a question about Brexit that maybe somebody smarter here can answer…….first they did the referendum (“Leave”), then they did the Article 50 withdrawal, now they are trying to negotiate a diplomatic framework for what this is going to look like, in an atmosphere of internal and external chaos, and it doesn’t look good now……..wouldn’t it have been better to negotiate the terms first and then do the Article 50?…………Isn’t this like initiating negotiation with someone with the startling ploy of pulling the pin on a grenade and stuffing it down your own pants?……………..The grenade is currently scheduled to go off on Halloween; Trick or Treat!

    1. David

      The Tory government of May has been accused of many things, but seldom of wisdom, forethought or even basic competence.

    2. PlutoniumKun

      Article 50 is worded in such a way that negotiations can only occur after the notification. This was deliberately written this way – if negotiations started first, then they could go on indefinitely until it was in the interests of the withdrawing country to launch A-50. In the meanwhile, as a full EU member the withdrawing country could cause chaos internally as part of its negotiating strategy. For example, it could block the agreement of any budget unless it got what it wanted in its negotiations. This situation could go on indefinitely.

      So A.50 was designed precisely to put all power in the hands of the existing members at the expense of the withdrawing member and to ensure the withdrawing member could cause minimal disruption to the internal workings of the EU. There is nothing unusual about this, you get the same principle applied in pretty much any sort of membership organisation.

      The problem is that the UK doesn’t seem to have realised this until it was too late. Its sole advantage after the referendum was that it could delay the notification indefinitely, forcing the EU onto the defensive. But they didn’t have the basic competency to do this. Once notified, the EU had all the cards.

      1. vlade

        That is true (how A50 is written), but they did not even try. I’d point out that it while formal negotiations could not be legally opened, there’s nothing (except of course individual willingness) to open informal ones.

        I believe that if the UK said “well, see, if we trigger now, it’s out of our hands. So we need to think carefully and plan even more carefully, and that takes time. Stop by in a couple of years. That is, of course, unless you want to help us and start talking now? Oh, and you say you have some important decisions to make in the next few years, so we’d not do EU politics? You know, someone may still decide to cancel this whole thing if it drags on over the next elections, so again, unless you help us, we’ll look after our interests in the EU thank you very much.”

        Sir Ivan Rogers agrees.

        Of course, the UK could not do it not just because the EU, but mostly because the press + Farage would bay for their blood. Rational? Depends on what your goals are, but not really if you include wellbeing of the UK as your primary one.

      2. David

        What surprised me at the time was that, given that the notification had to come first, no prior thought was given to what the UK’s negotiating position was going to be, nor any attempt to find out what other nations thought. Whilst it’s technically true that “negotiations” could only start after Art 50 was invoked, it’s normal to have quite extensive preparatory discussions of a “if we say this, how would you react?” type. This happened a lot before the 1972 EC accession talks started, and it saved a lot of time later. It also meant that the sides understood each other’s positions very clearly. As you say, a competent government would have delayed the process of notification, quite probably through lots of talks about talks of this kind. The fact that they didn’t is almost unbelievable and, as you say, handed the 27 all the cards.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          That’s a very good point. But the flip side is trade talks are so thorny and so in the weeds that this approach wouldn’t have done much to advance negotiations. But it would probably have had a very important effect nevertheless: showing that basic UK assumptions back then (“Oh, this will be easy,” “Oh, we have all the leverage”) were bunk.

    3. Joe Well

      What is even more baffling is that her predecessor sacrificed his political career so Britain wouldn’t have to do that. And May did it anyway.

    4. westkentim

      I believe (but I confess I have not read the detail) that, according to The Rules, you can’t negotiate until you pull the trigger on Art 50. The British play by The Rules. Nobody else in Europe, should they have wanted to exit, would have dreamt of doing so. (But, I believe, the chap who write Art 50 never expected anyone to invoke it.) All somewhat surreal, but (and I say this as someone who voted Remain) it is all somewhat illustrative of why the EU project is possibly better off with a friendly Britain on the outside.

      Slightly flippantly, I would say that the answer for BoJo is to try hard, but accept the laws of gravity and revoke Art 50 at the last minute, and say to Brussels “Nigel Farage is all yours. Let us know when you are fed up and want to negotiate, and we’ll take him with us.”

    5. Iorwerth

      It would have been better (obvious?) for either DC or TM to establish an all party committee to discuss and agree on the path to be taken. This should have been done immediately or very soon after the referendum.

    6. Fazal Majid

      Article 50 was designed (by a Brit, it turns out) to rob the departing country of leverage. That said, Merkel and other EU leaders clearly stated that there would be no negotiations without an Art. 50 notification.

      The sensible thing to do would have been to form a government of national unity, spend the next 10-20 years on a quasi-war footing to reorient the economy for a post-EU, post-EEA era, then notify Article 50. But of course only a country like Singapore has the quality of politicians required to pull something like that off.

  13. robert dudek

    The current government thinking must be to try to convince the EU27 that Johnson is crazy enough to go for no deal. That they will make the adjustments in the wording on the backstop to avoid the no-deal scenario and get a deal approved in UK parliament.

    May half-heartedly tried to play that card, but it seems she wasn’t convincing enough. The second she said she was willing to ask for an extension it was game over on that front.

    No-deal opponents are now rabidly countering the “do-or-die” rhetoric. Ummah, now a LibDem said that they would pass legislation to “force” Johnson to ask for an extension to avoid no-deal. How is that possible? You can’t pass a law “directing” the Prime Minister to do something. And the EU27 can’t unilaterally extend the deadline, it must be requested by the UK. The queen isn’t going to do it, so it can only be the prime minister. If Johnson refuses to ask, there will be no extension.

    Revoking Article 50 is the only way for parliament to stop no-deal in the face of resistance from the PM. Are they at that point yet? They might get there by October.

    Johnson will not call an election, the DUP will not force one because they are very unlikely to have the leverage they do now. So it will have to be rebel Tories who will do it in desperation, but they won’t get enough Labour MPs to support them as the latter will also be crushed in any election. Thus, no election this year.

    The EU27 will make some cosmetic changes and the deal will pass, or Johnson will realize his bluff has been called and ask for another extension, amid howls from Farage.

    1. vlade

      The one thing there is that it really really ignores the fact that the EU is most likely willing to go with no-deal.

      Because they assume that if a man wants to threaten them by a suicide, it’s easiest to let him kill himself and deal with the heirs.

      Johnson, ERG etc. seem to assume that with the EU they are dealing with the natives that you shake your fist at and they fall in line.

      They don’t seem to understand that the EU is not soft, and it really, really cannot afford to be soft, or even be seen as soft, to the UK (it can’t afford to be seen as unfair either, but the UK’s helping there massively with idiotic demands).

      1. Mattski

        Well said. I find these assessments and the parlay they inspire by far the best source on Brexit on the internet, including British sources.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      With all due respect, you haven’t been paying attention. Barnier did say May didn’t threaten a crashout because the EU would not have negotiated with her had she tried that stunt in negotiations.

      Your conclusion is not correct. The EU will not change the Withdrawal Agreement, save if the UK wanted to change to what is informally called a “sea boarder” as in having Northern Ireland subject to EU rules and EU jurisdiction for trade and movement of people. It may add some of the reassuring language re intent that May and the EU had negotiated but that was already pre-rejected by the ERG and the press.

      1. robert dudek

        She made many statements that come the March deadline the UK was leaving the union.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          No, her formula was first “the deal I’m working on or no deal” which as of November 2018 when the Withdrawal Agreement was set, became, “this deal, no deal, or no Brexit.”

  14. Ape

    I understand the cost limitations — but if I ran a simulation with one off that was stochastic, I’d really want to have an envelope of simulations and an overall analytic model that would help me interpret the results.

    A one-off in a high-dimensional problem will not give you an expectation value or distribution.

    But I guess we go with what’s possible and hope not to fool ourselves too much.

  15. The Rev Kev

    I know that this is a big ask but so long as the Institut für die Wissenschaften vom Menschen and the ERSTE Foundation in Vienna were gathered together gaming out Brexit, would it have been too much to have them game out the period from October 31st to December 31st well? There are only a few possibilities of what will go down – none of them good – but they might given some insight as to what to expect by the end of the year.

      1. The Rev Kev

        After WW2 countries like Australia were still sending what amounted to care packages to Britain to help out the people there for years. Our present government is hostile to all refugees at the moment but you wonder what would happen if there were future British refugees.

  16. vlade

    Ah, so Johnson now claims that there will be no-deal, because there’s “17 side deals already in place”.

    Except that they are no side-deals, but unilateral actions by the EU.

    Where most of them are time-limited (some till end of 2019, some 3 months, some 12 months).

    Most of them says “basic” somewhere there (like basic air, road and rail connectivity), which basically means “we decide what we want”.

    And a number of them are conditional on the same measure being taken by the UK immediately (i.e. UK road hauliers will continue to have access to the EU for 3 months, assuming the EU ones will have the same in the UK).

  17. Summer

    They should have been “war gaming” who benefits from a no-deal Brexit. It’s not on the radar solely because of what politicians want and the country isn’t being put on economic edge because of “democracy” or need to appease any rabble. Politicians are servants to money and power.

    1. Anonymous2

      It is interesting that Johnson is undertaking a major cull of the existing government. That is two-edged. He will have Ministers who are beholden to him but there will also be a considerable number of ex-Ministers who may now feel free to make trouble for his Government.

      1. Anonymous2

        Looking at the new Cabinet, it looks very lightweight even by recent standards. With many key civil servants having left , the UK Government looks very inexperienced and short of ability now.

  18. Oregoncharles

    Brainstorm: Everyone knows the Tories are doomed, for the time being. Occurs to me Johnson might, once he gets in, just push through the Withdrawal Agreement as it stands; there isn’t much else he can do, with Parliament dead set against a crashout. That would be a truly American level of promise-breaking, but so what? See my first sentence.

    One reason for saying this is that even with all the overheated reporting, I have no idea, from here, who he is. He’s a self-caricature, like Trump, and that’s what gets reported. But somehow, he’s risen to the top, so he isn’t completely stupid – but he may be completely lacking in integrity.

  19. shinola

    NC has been this yank’s main source of info. & opinion about Brexit. If I relied only on US msm, I would barely even know there’s anything going between the UK & EU.

    As I type this, there are 73 comments showing – and I’ve read them all. I must say that I found the discussions in the comments more interesting & informative than the article. (And as an aside, more interesting than the Mueller show dominating the TeeVee channels right now).

    A big thanks to NC and y’all for a bit of non-US-centric information/education.

  20. Summer


    “Johnson claimed that, in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the UK would have an extra £39bn – the sum due to be paid to the EU under the withdrawal agreement. But the EU does not accept that. And until Johnson became prime minister today, the Treasury’s argument used to be that much of this money would have to be paid anyway, because it represents debts for which the UK is legally liable. Ministers used  to argue that, if the UK did not pay up, it could get taken to court, and its reputation as a good faith negotiating partner would be badly damaged.”

    The EU still thinks the people behind Brexit have respect for the “norms fairy”?

    I get the sense they are more you-can- have- the-reputation-we’re-going-for-the -loot types.

    1. vlade

      Well, they can loot the UK, there’s now very little that can stop them.

      As far as the extra money goes – if the UK goes rogue, the only ones who will talk to them will be those who can do so from a position of power. US, China..

      But these talks will very emphatically not be negotiations. It will be “sign here” stuff.

    2. Yves Smith Post author


      This is not a “norms fairy” and the Treasury argument is lame. The UK absolutely has to have a trade deal. They’ll find out how badly if they crash out.

      The EU has said they will not negotiate ANY trade deal unless the UK agrees to the main elements of the Withdrawal Agreement as a precondition to negotiating: the £39 billion, the backstop, and the provisions on citizens’ rights. The backstop would need to be reworked given that the UK would have left ECJ jurisdiction, but conceptually the EU would insist on similar protections. .

      1. Fazal Majid

        Wouldn’t the UK defaulting on its commitments to the EU be the same as defaulting on debt? Leading to the immediate loss of Britain’s ability to denominate its loans in Sterling rather than other currencies?

        Even Syriza blinked at the last moment.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Not comparable. The Greek banking system was on life support from the ECB and the ECB was massively breaking its rules to do so, so they could pull the plug at any time.

          The Treasury theory is silly. The EU is not going to sue the UK and the amounts are almost without exception not fixed amounts like debt, but estimates of future amounts that would have been paid, and in most cases, will be paid out in the future with the exact amount set by a contingent-on-events basis. So even using “39 billion pounds” is misleading because that’s just the midpoint of the range of net present values of estimated future payments.

          The EU will withhold a trade deal unless the UK agrees to pay up.

  21. F.Korning

    Holding back repayments or any other sort of strong-arm tactics will backfire immensely. A vast portion of financial contracts are still enshrined and regulated by UK law. Should the Uk renege on treaties to which they weren’t just signatories but major planners and architects of the legislation, I can only imagine the cascade of loss of confidence and defaults that will ensue. It would actually kill the hoped-for tory tax-haven fiscal-paradise construct. Why would one entrust ones’s hoard in such a double-dealing den of thieves?

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