Brexit: According to Script

Aside from Boris-Johnson-generated noise, like his People’s PQMs, Brexit is evolving, or devolving, on the trajectory predicted by our insightful readers.

Specifically, vlade and others anticipated that the only viable route for Parliament to obstruct Johnson’s crash-out plan was to win a vote of no confidence, then use the 14 day period in which Parliament could vote confidence in a government, including one different than the one it had shot down, to create what amounted to a caretaker government of national unity which would exist solely to ask for an extension and a general election. However, the commentariat was quite convinced that this would not happen because the parties to the government of national unity would fight like cats in a bag. The immediate impediment was that Corbyn would insist on being Prime Minister and the other opposition parties wouldn’t swallow that.

This was vlade’s take:

IMO, NU is the only practical way how to attempt to stop no-deal. And even that would be just an attempt, as it would have to lead to a GE (not referendum, that takes way too much time), and if Johnson + BP won that, it would be just delayed no-deal.

But, as the article Yves mentions says, chances on NU are about nil, as Labour still clings to the “it has to be us”. I could, barely, see LD doing that with gritted teeth, but it’s a very very low chance.

Personally, I don’t get Labour’s stance, as it would be a very short care-taker government (about a month), which could not do anything, and wasn’t even allowed to use government resources in the campaign. It looks to me like pretty much a point of pride. And, given that Corbyn is almost as wooden in front of media as May was, I’m not sure whether even claiming “see Corbyn can be a PM” would be a good thing.

Mind you, LD stance is even slightly less understandeable, as if there’s no NU governmnet pronto, their single-issue approach will come out. That said, they may still be able to capitalise on GE immediately post-Brexit, if more Labour remain voters blame Labour, some Tory voters blame Johnson, and not enough leavers comes to the polls seeing it as “mission accomplished”.

Anyways, the main point is that even if there was a GE before October 31, there’s a good chance it will be a hung parliament, so the UK may still crash out as there would not be any governmnet before Oct 31.

As ChrisPacific added:

I had been speculating about a possible NU government in a previous links. It does seem to be too much wishful thinking in too short a timeframe, given the various positions and views involved. For all the talk, it doesn’t seem to me that even Remainers are really properly scared of No Deal. If it was an Old Testament slaughter of the first-born type scenario, nobody would dare go on record with the kind of positions we are seeing (we will only support it if we are the leaders, etc.)

Yesterday, Corbyn came out for a government of national unity to block Brexit, but as predicted, with enough strings attached to make it a non-started. Plus the LibDems said no, also as predicted.

First from the Financial Times on Corbyn’s scheme:

The UK Labour party has set out proposals to form a temporary government in early September that would request an extension to Article 50 in an effort to avoid a no-deal Brexit before calling a general election.

Rebecca Long-Bailey, shadow business secretary, said on Thursday that the opposition would try to bring down Boris Johnson’s government within “days” of parliament returning from its summer recess on September 3. Labour would then seek to form a “time-limited temporary government” with the aim of calling an election. 

In a letter to the leaders of other opposition parties and senior backbench MPs on Wednesday evening, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn urged his counterparts in the Liberal Democrats, Scottish Nationalists, Plaid Cymru and Green parties — along with Conservative MPs opposed to a no-deal departure — to support his attempt to bring down the Johnson government and delay Brexit.

“This government has no mandate for no deal, and the 2016 EU referendum provided no mandate for no deal,” he wrote.

Jo Swinson, leader of the Liberal Democrats, rejected the plan as being “not serious”.

So much for unity. It is worth noting that Corbyn did say Labour’s platform would include a second referendum, including a Remain option, and that the SNP and Plaid Cymru made positive noises. But there’s no mistaking this sort of thing:

And for even more fun, the chair of the Commons foreign affairs committee suggested that the Government could leave the EU before the end of the month:

However, the Guardian suggests that this threat is bluster:

A Downing Street source said the idea was not under consideration, and one expert in EU law said the withdrawal date could only be changed with the consent of Brussels.

The plan, if carried out, would be hugely controversial, and would take companies and the financial markets by surprise before no-deal preparations had been completed.

On another front, the idea that the US might ride to the rescue of the UK with a speedy trade deal has gotten knocked back. It isn’t just that the US is not naturally positioned to fill the EU void quickly or even in a few years. Philip Stevens pointed out in the Financial Times that the US was eager for a deal for reasons that were not at all positive for the UK. For instance:

By the same logic it makes a weakened Britain a more pliant ally. Mr Bolton is keen to sound magnanimous. Mr Trump can scarcely wait to sign a trade deal with Mr Johnson, he says. And to make it easier, he is ready to leave the tough stuff — open access to Britain for America’s chlorinated chicken and hormone-fed beef and a role for US business in the National Health Service — until some time after Britain has left the EU.

In the same vein, Mr Bolton says, the administration has deferred any effort to increase the pressure on Mr Johnson to disavow Europe’s approach to the Iran agreement and its soft line towards Huawei. Mr Trump can wait until the prime minister has severed the ties. Some might have thought this posture generous. Serious policymakers in Whitehall know that Mr Trump will not wait long before demanding Mr Johnson falls into line.

However, a more serious blow to the UK’s US deal fantasies came yesterday, as foretold by PlutoniumKun. Ireland has made a point of cultivating the Irish diasopra in the US, and most of all, the Irish-descended pols in the Democratic party.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said that the House would not approve a UK trade deal that did not require something very much like the hated backstop. So the House and the EU are unified that the UK needs to accept arrangements that would prevent a hard border in Ireland as a condition for any trade deal. That in turn means the UK would need to submit to a continuation of compliance with EU physiosanitary and other regulations with respect to goods (Clive has described at length that how this is achieved post Brexit is not at all obvious, since EU compliance isn’t just a matter of laws but participation in a regulatory and legal apparatus, and the UK will have just walked out of that).

Pelosi framed her objection in terms of the need to preserve the Good Friday Agreement, but anyone who has been paying attention to the negotiations knows where that leads. From The Hill:

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Wednesday reiterated her opposition to a free trade deal with the United Kingdom if its withdrawal from the European Union harms Irish peace.

“The Good Friday Agreement serves as the bedrock of peace in Northern Ireland and as a beacon of hope for the entire world. After centuries of conflict and bloodshed, the world has witnessed a miracle of reconciliation and progress made possible because of this transformative accord,” she said in a statement.

“If Brexit undermines the Good Friday accord, there will be no chance of a U.S.-U.K. trade agreement passing the Congress. The peace of the Good Friday Agreement is treasured by the American people and will be fiercely defended on a bicameral and bipartisan basis in the United States Congress.”…

Any new trade deal to substitute the U.S.-U.K. agreements negotiated through the EU would have to be brought to a vote in Congress, meaning the Speaker could block it.

And on a final cheery note, again confirming our earlier reporting, the Guardian cites a new report that warns that a no deal Brexit would result in widespread failures in the farming sector:

Campaigners for a second referendum are herding a flock of sheep down Whitehall to protest against the impact a no-deal Brexit could have on the farming community.

According to a new report commissioned by the supporters of second poll, more than half of UK farms could go out of business if Britain crashes out of the EU on 31 October.

Backed by the People’s Vote campaign and written by Dr Séan Rickard, former chief economist of the National Farmers’ Union, the report warns that 50% of farms could go under as the government would prioritise keeping down food prices for consumers ahead of protecting agricultural producers.

This is consistent with the picture presented by Richard North, who has argued that the UK would drop food-related physiosanitary checks and tariffs to prevent shortages, but that that would come at the expense of domestic producers, most of all farmers who ship live animals to the EU. Oddly North has taken to downplaying the domestic impact of late. But the logic set forth in the study is persuasive:

The report says the EU and all the countries with whom it has free-trade agreements would immediately apply tariffs and non-tariff barriers on food imports from the UK in the event of a no-deal Brexit. At the same time, UK tariffs on imports would be slashed or reduced to nothing.

It argues: “The combination of the removal of support payments – only a proportion will be made up by enhanced environmental payments – and an adverse trading environment will render the majority of farm businesses unviable. By the mid-2020s a large proportion of farm businesses – 50% or more is not an unreasonable estimate – recognising that they face an unprofitable future will decide to cease trading.”

Again, I take no pleasure in reporting on this grim march to a crash out. And even though a rescue seems vanishingly unlikely, I’d much rather be proven wrong. The UK will remain deeply divided and many citizens would be embittered, but that’s still less grim outcome than a post USSR-style plutocratic land grab.

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  1. Jessica

    I can’t blame Labour for demanding that Corbyn be the PM of any temporary national unity government. The alternative NU is basically a government with two functions: (1) Block Brexit. (2) Block Corbyn, riding on his demonization by the mainstream media in the UK. If the other parties were serious, they would propose some kind of NU that was neither Corbyn, nor anti-Corbyn. For example, having someone else from Labour who is pro-Corbyn as the PM (obviously, not one of the Blairite neolibs).
    The first while, I watched this from afar, glad that I was far away, but as the continues to unfold, I have the feeling that one way or another, the US will go through something similar soon. Perhaps Trump’s so far successful attempt to throw China off the cool kids’ table. Or it may be around machinations for the Democratic nomination. (We’ll yeah, we cheated Bernie out of the nomination, but if you say anything about it, you’ll be responsible for four more years of Trump (not our second straight unappealing candidate).)

    1. vlade

      There was proposal of Steimer, whic is pro-Corbyn. The problem with that, for the Corbyn faction, is that that would give anyone else but Corbyn massive platform, if they wanted to, making a challenge to Corbyn so much easier, especially if he failed at GE (as I believe is likely).

      Really, better thing would be someone like Ken Clarke. A Tory, yes, but not going to stand for the next election, rebelled against May, dislikes Johnson intensly, and has no interest in any political future – so no axe to grind on Corbyn one way or another while he’s the PM.

      1. Gordon

        Yes, Ken Clarke would be good with maximum appeal to potential Tory rebels and broadly acceptable to other parties..

          1. shtove

            I haven’t been back to Ireland for a while, so I don’t know what’s what there. But walk down any British high street, or wait the extra 15 minutes at any train station in your delayed journey, and you’ll smell the sweetness of marijuana once or twice.

            Tory “bans” are strictly for media consumption at the breakfast tables of high-rise retirement towers: “Nora, more grapefruit! We’ve finally got the bastards!”

  2. vlade

    It appears that some Labour MPs are also considering the other idea raised here – to finally pass May’s WA.

    I don’t think it would be enough for just a splinter group from either party t do it, at least one of the parties would have to support it fully.

    An interesting combo for Labour would be to sink Johnson + do the above, but I don’t see how you could get the Tory rebels to do both, because if you do the latter, why do the former (and lose their seats?)

    1. Ataraxite

      I am happy to be corrected here, but as I understand it, it’s the executive in the UK that can actually accede to any sort of treaty, and while the Parliament can put conditions on that (as it did with May’s deal), it can’t actually agree the Withdrawal Agreement (at least without legislative / constitutional change).

      If Parliament did pass the WA, could Boris Johnson simply ignore it?

      1. vlade

        As I understand it, May signed the WA already, but it has to be ratified by the Parliament – that’s what’s outstanding. So what Johnson does then would be irrelevant.

        Moreover, his take on the EU neg is ‘see, WA is dead, no point in getting it to the Parliamnet’. If MPs proved him wrong, he’d be hung up and dry (not that he didn’t ignore things like that before).

        1. Ataraxite

          So I’ve done a little research. If we look at the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, we see in paragraph 13(1):

          The withdrawal agreement may be ratified only if—
          (a) a Minister of the Crown has laid before each House of Parliament—
          (i) a statement that political agreement has been reached,
          (ii) a copy of the negotiated withdrawal agreement, and
          (iii) a copy of the framework for the future relationship,
          (b) the negotiated withdrawal agreement and the framework for the future relationship have been approved by a resolution of the House of Commons on a motion moved by a Minister of the Crown,
          (+ other irrelevant stuff)

          And down in paragraph 13(6) we have this:

          “ratified”, in relation to the withdrawal agreement, has the same meaning as it does for the purposes of Part 2 of the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010 in relation to a treaty (see section 25 of that Act);

          And when we follow that reference, we find in S.25 of Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010:

          (3)In this Part a reference to ratification of a treaty is a reference to an act of a kind specified in subsection (4) which establishes as a matter of international law the United Kingdom’s consent to be bound by the treaty.
          (4)The acts are—
          (a)deposit or delivery of an instrument of ratification, accession, approval or acceptance;
          (b)deposit or delivery of a notification of completion of domestic procedures.

          By my reading of the above, the UK Government hasn’t ratified the Withdrawal Agreement yet, and there is nothing requiring the government to ratify the agreement if Parliament passes the motion.

          (Also, every official copy of the WA I can find has it denoted as a “draft” or “proposed” Withdrawal Agreement, which suggests that Theresa May hasn’t yet signed or ratified it.)

          1. David

            The way this works is that the UK negotiators (who may include Ministers or even the PM) agree and sign a treaty text on behalf of the government. Obviously, if anyone but the PM does the actual agreeing, they do so with the approval of the Cabinet. The traditional next step is ratification, which in the UK has a always been a Crown prerogative and is essentially automatic. Treaty signature is supposed to mean that all the governments are happy with the text. States can refuse to ratify or attach conditions, but they can’t reopen the text.
            Ratification is, however, not an activity of government, which is taken to have agreed the text at the time of signature. The government’s bit is done, and the rest is essentially a wider political approval process of an agreed text. In this case it’s complicated because the government has been told by the courts that it has to submit the WA to parliament for approval.
            So the position is that there is a text agreed by all nations, but which cannot come into force because the UK government could not get it approved by parliament. Unless the government submits it again , and it’s approved, then it will never come into force.

            1. PlutoniumKun

              Is it possible for Parliament to submit the WA for its own approval without the agreement of the government? Presumably if that was paired with a no-confidence motion in Johnson, then all EU agreements with May still stand?

              1. David

                I have seen this suggested once or twice. I think the only real answer is Never Been Tried Don’t Know. In turn that’s because no government has ever had to withdraw a negotiated text before, and even more because no government has declined to put an agreement for approval before. It would all depend on the Speaker, and I think Bercow would go for it. It might need to be dressed up a bit, perhaps a motion saying that This House Regrets blah blah and instructs the government blah blah. It depends what the Speaker will accept. In any event, the WA stands, because May’s government agreed it. Governments can’t bind their successors in policy terms, but agreements are binding on future governments : otherwise the result would be chaos. There is, incidentally, a convention that governments that have signed but not ratified treaties should not act in a way counter to the spirit of the treaty. Another piece of Brexit collateral damage.

  3. Ataraxite

    Thank you, Yves, another astute yet depressing exposition of the danse macabre of Brexit.

    Like vlade, I put the odds of a national “unity” government at pretty much zero. For it to happen, beyond the issues detailed above, there have to be around 10 or 15 Tories who are prepared to sacrifice their political careers to avoid No Deal. And I mean that: they have to be prepared to vote against their own party, be expelled from it as a consequence, and then lose their jobs at the election a few weeks later. The reason there needs to be 10 or 15 of these is that there are a few Labour MPs who won’t want to participate in derailing Brexit – which is exactly how they’ll be painted.

    For this reason, I expect a lot of focus, at least initially, on the so-called “legislative” approaches to avoiding No Deal. These have two major problems: MPs seem unwilling to countenance actually legislate that the UK must revoke Article 50 if No Deal is immanent. Instead, there will be a requirement to seek an extension of Article 50, on the assumption that the EU will grant it, and that Boris Johnson won’t find a way of rejecting the extension if it is offered, or otherwise making an end-run around the legislation. Perhaps he’ll even just ignore it.

    (And this all assumes, of course, that Parliament will even get the chance to legislate, something Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings will work to avoid.)

    The public temperature in the UK is still much too low to drive MPs to drastic action: there is no rioting, no poll collapses, nothing like Hong Kong. And there seems very little chance of it rising before Brexit Day – a few friendly marches of polite middle-class remainers is not going to change anything. I’ve said before how unconcerned my friends in the UK seem, and how everyone thinks things will go on as they are. There may be a lot of anger after October 31, but then it’s too late.

    1. Jabbawocky

      This is what I see too. Corbyn holds one ace, and it is that he controls the timing of any confidence vote.

      The biggest risk to Corbyn is that the General Election takes place within a few days of Brexit, before problems start to become obvious, and any early signs can be dismissed as Project fear 3.0. Boris then slays Farage and gets 5 more years to ride out the brexit storm.

      The other risk is that there is still enough time that MPs think there are still legislative routes to avoiding no deal. MPs can then risk no forming the GNU.

      Therefore Corbyn should only call a no confidence vote at the last minute. With only a few days before brexit MPs are forced to form a GNU. Or, Boris’s election takes place much longer after the no deal brexit date, with problems beginning to mount.

      1. Clive

        A, if not entirely good, then at least comprehensive summary of the problems Corbyn faces in terms of options and the timings of those options is here

        (there’s a fair bit to quibble with in that article but it is broadly correct in terms of accuracy and observations).

        It too agrees with your last point: Corbyn’s electoral position is strengthened after a No Deal Brexit. Not before.

  4. Ignacio

    For farmers, I believe they should focus on whether the EU will be willing to provide some time before applying those barriers to trade on livestock. I wonder whether, following Clive’s thoughts, farmer associations could be able to agree, by themselves and with EU institutions, their participation in EU livestock and derivatives trading framework instead of leaving the task to civil servants constrained by political wills.

    1. Detlef

      Not according to the notice for stakeholders “Withdrawal of the United Kingdom and EU Food Law and EU Rules on Quality schemes” (pdf file, March 20, 2019).

      As of the withdrawal date, the importation of food of animal origin from the United Kingdom into the EU-27 is prohibited, unless certain requirements are met, including:

      As of the withdrawal date, these substantial requirements are controlled upon entry into the EU-27 by applying mandatory border checks at the first point of entry into the Union territory:

      (Bold my emphasis)

      I doubt that the EU position on sanitary and phytosanitary checks has changed since March.
      In a no-deal scenario the EU single market rules concerning inspections and supervision by the EU Commission are no longer valid in the UK. They can´t be enforced.

      What you propose is essentially self-inspection and self-certification by farmer associations in a third party country. The EU would lose control of their own rule enforcement.
      And if the EU were to permit this then how could the EU deny this to other third party countries? Remember the WTO non discrimination rules.

      1. Math is Your Friend

        From what I have read, there are cases where a 3rd party authority has been granted the right to certify things to the EU, but that organization must be approved by the EU, and must maintain that approval.

        This first came to my notice in a discussion of ‘organic’ food (a horrible name, given that if it were not organic, you couldn’t eat it).

        Third party authorities can certify food as ‘organic’ but those authorities must be approved by the EU, a process that was expected to take the better part of a year.

        One wonders how many authorities must get approval to cover the full range of phytosanitary certifications.

        And, obviously, the products must comply with EU regulations and standards. So much for ‘taking control’

  5. Ignacio

    The EU will take notice that an anti-WA position has been much stronger in UK Parliament than an anti-no-deal position. The odds of another extension granted by the EU must be close to nill.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      No, I think that is not correct. Despite growing antipathy to further extensions, the EU is also of the view that it does not want to be charged with having triggered Brexit, and denying an extension would amount to that. So if asked, my belief is it would grant an extension, but a begrudging and short one.

  6. PlutoniumKun

    I think Yves is right that even the Remainers don’t seem as concerned as they should be of the practical implications of a no-deal. They are still obviously willing to put their party concerns above national concerns. I think deep down Corbyn and his people see a no-deal as a way to get Brexit off the table so they can focus on removing the Tories, they don’t seem to see that they are as likely to get swept aside in the chaos as the Tories.

    Oddly, the only ones who truly seem to see what a disaster it can be are Tories like Hammond, presumably because he’s had insider briefings.

    I saw a report this morning that analysts are saying that at the absolute maximum, only about 40 Tories would defy Johnson in a vote, and that’s making lots of assumptions – in reality, its probably less than a dozen unless the government does something really stupid.

    In the meanwhile, there is some pretty awful economic news hitting Germany, much of the core of Europe (along with the UK) is going straight into recession in the autumn unless there is some serious fiscal stimulus. A lot of Brexiters seem to hope this will panic Merkel into making concessions. I suspect that on it might be the opposite – it might encourage German carmakers in particular to cut their losses in the UK to ‘consolidate’ their supply chains.

    1. vlade

      I agree with you on the german carmakers (and, more importantly, part-makers). If there’s production capacity in Germany, they will, first and foremost look to fill that in Germany (for variety of reasons, few of them economic).

    2. fajensen

      In the meanwhile, there is some pretty awful economic news hitting Germany, much of the core of Europe (along with the UK) is going straight into recession in the autumn unless there is some serious fiscal stimulus.

      Crash-out Brexit could be used by the EU member states in collusion with the ECB to bury an awful lot of stranded investments and general stupidity mainly caused by ZIRP and NIRP. Germany and France could push through with more federal economic integration into the EUR-Zone “to allow the ECB to stabilise the economy”. Brussels would be incompetent if they were not drafting some “emergency” legislation already – and I think Brussels is far from incompetence!

      This will be sold under the banner of: “this is a totally new and totally unforeseen situation, that will totally never happen again, so it’s totally not making policy here so just this once, anything goes!” with the extra bonus of the UK being unable to stop any of it!

      Fiscal stimulus alone will not cut it, (some of) the new money has to go to people in one way or another.

      1. larry

        New money going to the people is a fiscal stimulus. I think you may have been thinking of a kind of restriction that would exclude the people. And of course if it did that, the stimulus would not really work as intended.

        It is a shame that the EU elites can not seem to rid themselves of eurozonethink.

      2. PlutoniumKun

        Indeed – it has been an article of faith of the EU project that ‘design issues’ can best be ironed out during crises. A feature of technocratic organisations everywhere is that there is always a dusty plan lying under a desk for every opportunity.

        I’d be very surprised if there aren’t plans in place to do this in the event of a no-deal. Given the general political weakness of Germany at the moment as Merkel declines, Macron probably sees it as his opportunity.

    3. Math is Your Friend

      “They are still obviously willing to put their party concerns above national concerns.”

      I think this may be an over-simplification.

      Certainly the antics of the last three years demonstrate that there are a lot of politicians who put party ahead of nation, or personal gain above all else, but there are other reasons to consider Brexit as a penultimate problem.

      Brexit could cause permanent damage, but it can be reversed, in five or ten years, with a bit of simplification of the situation, to whit, the removal of special British privileges in the EU. I can see that being a long term positive development.

      On the other hand, if a Corbyn government went on a nationalization spree, it could take decades to straighten the resulting mess out, and I expect it could do a lot more long term damage than Brexit. One could be aware of this, and thus regard Brexit as the number two problem. Not everyone putting nation before party must choose the same path.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        Na ga happen. The EU has made clear that if the UK were to reapply to the EU, it goes in the queue along with everyone else. And it would have to accept eventual adoption of the Euro.

      2. PlutoniumKun

        I agree its something of an oversimplification, and you are right to say that part of the problem is that they all have a different vision of what happens afterwards. Having said that, there do seem to be indications that Corbyn is winning the battle of wits with the LibDems and others, they seem to realise now that a GNU is either led by Corbyn or it doesn’t exist. As Rafael Behr pointed out in the Guardian, this is one of the few things fairly clear in terms of the constitution – the person responsible for forming a caretaker government in these circumstances it the leader of the opposition, nobody else.

        As to joining the EU again, I simply don’t see this – Brexit has created so much bad blood that the main European countries are now glad to be rid of the UK. I think it would only be allowed in step by step – Scotland first, then via EEA, etc. In other words, by the book, and very slowly. And thats even assuming a clear majority in England/Wales would actually want it again, even if it made economic sense. And assuming even more that the EU will survive a decade.

        1. vlade

          The problem here is that even if LD do get on board (and I suspect they do now, since even some Tories did), is “Will enough Tories/independents do?”

          And that is the problem Corbyn is really facing IMO. Becasue now _every_ vote counts. Even if Corbyn gets together full Labour (may not be), full LD (may not be, Chucka), PC, Greens and SNP, that will be only 303 MPs. He will need at least 10 Tory MPs to support him IMO, and that may still prove a bridge too far.

          1. PlutoniumKun

            There was a minor argument in Ireland a few weeks ago when Fintan O’Toole floated the idea that Sinn Fein should resign their seven seats and move the writ for 7 immediate by-elections to be run on the basis of ‘stop no-deal’. The idea being that this would immediately change the calculations and potentially get Corbyn or AN Other over the line – those people would then step down for Sinn Fein in the next election.

            While SF immediately rejected it, their leader wrote a more considered response in the Irish Times a few days later saying, in effect, that there was no point as the numbers didn’t add up. Its possible that if there are a few high profile Tory defectors it could change, but I think then it would be too late to follow that strategy.

            1. vlade

              Indeed – there’s no chance to get the by-elections now in time to get it in.

              The numbers are very tight, so we’ll see. That said, ultimately, this is still just a prelude. Because if Johnson + BP wins any elections, they will treat it as having a no-deal mandate.

              And polls are far from conclusive, and a hung parliament in one way or another is most likely IMO.

          2. vlade

            Apparently “some Tories” means exactly one. That said, I’d think LD should now modify their position (together with the other parties ex Labour) to:
            – no-conf vote
            – if that won, give Corbyn a chance (and support him), on a condition that:
            – if he doesn’t win (likely), somoene like Clarke gets a second chance, and Labour commit to supporting them.

            And I see how Tories are getting support of the pensioners. Tory energy minister:
            “Clarke was an MP before I was born. How can he ever become the PM???”

    4. @pe

      Is it just “party concerns”, or is it partially “class concerns”?

      My impression is that significant portions of Tories, LibDems and Labour are really driven by class in a way that you don’t see in other developed countries. My impression is that for many in the UK, they have more “class patriotism” than national patriotism — they care more about their layer than they do across their layers.

      If that’s the case, regardless of pure party concerns, Brexit can’t work. One of the characteristics of successful independence movements is that they manage to get cross-class, cross-community cooperation, from 1776 on. Otherwise, the constitutional structural pressures are just too great, and everything just falls apart.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        I’m not sure class is really operating here – obviously, class is a ‘big’ thing in the UK, but what is striking about Brexit is that it cuts across class. The upper classes, the middle classes and the working classes are all pretty much equally divided about it. Only what you might term the metropolitan middle classes are united on it (they hate Brexit). I know of families that refuse to discuss it anymore its so divisive between them (usually between brexiteers parents and remainer young adults).

  7. The Rev Kev

    If this proposal for a temporary government goes ahead – which I seriously doubt – and they do not want to have Corbyn be the temporary leader of the UK during this period, then I have my own proposal to make. Give the job to David Cameron. No, seriously. This is all his fault anyway by trying to be too smart by half. It is only fair that he deal with some of the mess that he created and when that month is up, he can do what he did last time around and do another runner. I mean it is not like he is doing much these days anyway, is it?

    1. John A

      Or give it to Osborne as an 8th job along with the Evening Standard editorship, advisor to Blackrock etc. etc. Cameron is already way behind deadline for his tell all memoires, for which he bought an upmarket caravan to write it in his garden. Not sure the publisher would be thrilled about the likelihood of recouping a fraction of the advance before the book goes into the remainder (sic) bucket receeding even further.

  8. guilliam

    The main political dynamic of Brexit reminds me of a game of Jenga; both Labour and the Tories know it’s going to be a mess; they want the other party to be seen to cause it so they can afterwards blame their opponents while insisting that if it had been handled their own way the outcome would have been idyllic. (My guess is that PM Corbyn could get a much better deal just because he’d be such a relief to the EU after the Tories but it would inevitably still disappoint a lot of Brexiteers anyway)

    Personally I suspect Johnson (correctly or otherwise) doubts he’s going to be permitted to deliver a hard Brexit but is happy for it to be stopped by parliament so he’s got an excuse to call an election. And he probably further calculates that he still won’t win with a big enough majority to be able to deliver it but it’ll give him a position from which he can appeal to his target voters with lots of the sort of indignant bluster they enjoy.

    That said with so many moving parts, someone’s likely to eventually make a miscalculation that will lead to Brexit happening one way or another. I don’t think any Prime Minister would dare call an election once the effects of Brexit start to crystalise so I reckon that’s the most likely time for any government of National Unity to emerge.

    1. vlade

      The WA is NOT ‘THE DEAL’.

      The WA is a divorce agreement + political statement. No-one, not May, not Johnson, not Corbyn got ‘a deal’ from the EU.

      I sincerely doubt Corbyn would get much different WA (he might be able to limit the backstop to NI, as he’d not care about DUP, but that’s actually what was first offered anyways). But it’s extremely unlikely WA would be fundamentally different.

      See, and this is the problem most people have with Brexit – they have no clue that by “leaving”, the negotiation process only starts. Brexit day may be gone, but the negotiation with the EU (and host of other countries) will only start, and there still will be no time for any domestic policies. It will take at least a decade, more likely a generation, for the UK to sort itself out post Brexit day.

      1. guilliam

        Fair enough, I defer to your more detailed understanding of the documents but it doesn’t change my main point which is that I reckon both Johnson and Corbyn would prefer their opposite number to take the responsibility for the shape of the WA in prepation for when the British public’s looking for someone to blame afterwards

        Completely agree with you about most people naively thinking that Brexit’s going to over in a day. I was reminded of that when recently reading Claude Cockburn’s excellent account of the 1930s ‘The Devil’s Decade’. Much of the public in early 1939 assumed they’d be obliterated within hours of declaring war with Germany and were completely nonplussed to discover nothing much then happened in the UK for months afterwards…

      2. David

        I wake up at night from time to time wondering just how many MPs understand this most basic of points. And as for the alleged millions of British people who just want to ‘get it over with ….’

    2. fajensen

      The thing is, this is a lot more than a clever game of politics over who pays for the last round, in my opinion.

      In a crash out Brexit, I believe that the UK economy will take a severe beating while the English nationalist (white!) pride will be deeply bruised by Donald Trump rubbing the Brexiteers faces in their own mess while taking good advantage of their prone position.

      It is unsafe to assume that the Brexit Party in that situation would not turn fascist and then angry mobs would physically assault both Labour and Tories for “Betraying Brexit” (and of course to eliminate the competition and forming quite another kind of Unity Government).

      … and then what?

      1. PlutoniumKun

        I suspect that Trump will take the line that ‘I want a deal, but those pesky Dems in Congress…’, which will allow the English nationalists to blame Ireland again.

        But whatever the turnout, I think you are right that there is an element which will go to the streets, although its a moot point as to who they will direct their ire upon.

      2. Mattski

        I’m not so sure the British ruling class won’t be content with their vassalage. They’ve grown quite accustomed to their second-rate status by now, anyway, and capital, in the end, only knows country for PR purposes. They share a common culture with the one in the United States, and it might afford them a kind of celebrity and mobility they now lack; they’ll make swell dinner table companions among both the corporate Dems and the Republicans, who have all always been suckers for a British accent.

        Look for Britain to become the 51st state in twenty years in a harbinger of what the reconstituted neocons see as a soft diplomatic takeover of the world. Pax Americana rules the airwaves, etc.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          I think thats very true – there is a certain class of Englishman who enjoys playing the role of the adorable sidekick to US big brother at every level. A lot of Anglo-Norman aristocrats have surnames like ‘Stewart’ and ‘Butler’ precisely because they gained their status by being subservient to someone very powerful.

        2. Anonymous 2

          I am doubtful Britain will exist as a single political entity in 20 years. Scotland is probably going to walk, which leaves only England and maybe Wales.

  9. Tom

    It would be helpful if the abbreviations in valde quote in the article were spelled out.

    BP – Brexit Party?

    NU – National Unity? If so, is this concept well defined?


    1. PlutoniumKun

      LD = Liberal Democrats, the third biggest party and the only unambiguous pro-Remain party.

      NU is a national unity government – essentially an agreed transitional government supported by the majority of all parties. Its not a well defined concept because in the absence of a written constitution in the UK, it is pretty much whatever the individuals involved decide it is, unless a court rules otherwise.

      Yes, BP is the Brexit Party.

      1. Ataraxite

        I rather like “GNU” as the acronym for a Government of National Unity.

        Speaking of which, Rafael Behr astutely notes in a piece just published in the Guardian, that it’s nothing of the sort:

        There is something disingenuous about the discussions among MPs about a “government of national unity”(GNU) to avert a no-deal Brexit. It is predicated on concepts of nation and unity that don’t include those who are desperate to leave the EU. Those who voted leave are broadly satisfied with the government they currently have. It is, in truth, a euphemism for a model of technocratic, centre-facing liberal administration defined as much by a rejection of Corbynism as by revulsion at the Trumpian nationalist character that Brexit has acquired.


          1. Tom

            It’s surprising to learn that this was published in the Guardian. I have understood Guardian readers as center facing, liberal, Corbyn hating, never Trump, nostalgic for Blair, Obama and Clinton, pro-status quo people who don’t dislike the idea of technocratic administration.

        1. ChrisPacific

          This is a good example of the kind of problems that would arise. For a National Unity government to have any chance of working, it would have to be explicitly for the purpose of (a) thwarting a potential Johnson No Deal Brexit tactic by asking the EU for an extension and (b) getting to a General Election ASAP. If you limit it to that and no more, you are able to include (for example) factions that are pro-Brexit in general but anti-No Deal. You need to include those people, or you won’t have a majority and therefore won’t have a National Unity Government.

          Corbyn is making the right noises, but I think he needs to go further and explicitly say that the job of the caretaker government will be to accomplish those two things and do as little as possible otherwise. He needs to explicitly spell out the difference between the caretaker government and a Labour-led government proceeding from a victory in the GE, and possibly find ways to make it binding, perhaps by giving the coalition members some kind of veto power. Anything short of that and he will lose support of people who don’t trust him not to take advantage of the situation to push his agenda – and margins are likely to be slim enough for that to torpedo the whole thing.

          Politics being politics, of course, there is no such thing as a truly neutral approach, and there will be definite political benefits from leading such a government even if you genuinely constrain it to that purpose. If nothing else, simply leading under those terms and delivering an obviously positive, common sense result (no matter how limited) would be a pretty effective counter to the portrayal of Corbyn as a wide-eyed socialist radical who would be terribly destructive if he were to gain power for even a moment. Any potential partners in a caretaker government will be well aware of this, which means that there will be an electoral cost to them (relative to Labour) from taking part if Corbyn is the leader. It’s not something they can very well admit to in public though.

          If Corbyn is careful about the messaging, then it may well come down to yet another game of chicken over whether the other parties would risk No Deal rather than accept Corbyn as leader, and if so whether Labour would accept a compromise leader in order to stop No Deal. As with the other games of chicken, this one likely won’t be resolved until the last minute. In the meantime if I was Corbyn, I would be making it as politically difficult as possible for the other parties to refuse. He could, for example, put them on the spot by offering to let them write the terms of any agreement (at least, as a proposed draft). If Corbyn is really so icky that accepting No Deal Brexit would be preferable to working with him on any terms at all, let them say so to the voters, and accept the consequences. Everyone will be very well aware that it could all fall through and lead to No Deal, and they will all be preemptively trying to position themselves as favorably as possible in case that happens (“if everybody had just followed MY very reasonable suggestion…”)

          There will, of course, be plenty of people among all parties who will see a national unity government as an opportunity and will want to Do Stuff beyond just securing an extension and preparing for a GE. If those ideas are not shut down quickly and firmly then I think any sort of ‘unity’ will be temporary, fragile, or (more likely) never materialize at all.

          1. FKorning

            It’s not inspiring confidence, is it? Cavalierly playing chicken with the nation’s future is one of if main abhorent reproaches made of the Tories and Brexiters, and this true of Johnson, May, and Cameron before that. If that is Corbyn’s strategy, it doesn’t bode well. What we need is an adult process providing clarity and certainty.

            What strikes me as particularly puerile is this notion of sudden-death binary change, as in Brexit or nothing, I come from the field of Software Agility and engineering, and no rational change management ought to impose such a dramatic changeset and jump blindfolded into an erupting volcano.

            Gradual incremental changes with checks along the way are what is needed. Start with EEA for 5 years. Have a second referrendum then, to see if the nation wants to either further devolve away from the EU, stay put, or return to the halcyon days of full-fledge membership.

            The rational, democratic, incremental approach has been consistently smothered by the media and brexit mahcine, which says a lot about the “democratic” nature of the plebiscite. It is slow-motion coup.

          2. PlutoniumKun

            Thanks Chris, good points. A GNU (I do like that term) will face all sorts of awkward questions about what its true aim should be. I think Corbyn is playing this right – he is forcing all parties to accept that only he has the right to form one. But the question I think is what he wants from it – I think Corbyn accepts that having to implement the WA is a poisoned chalice, as would be a drawn out process of doing another referendum (assuming the EU would agree to that sort of extension). I’ve little doubt that there are voices whispering in his hear that it would be better to let a no-deal drag the Tories down before he arrives as the hero to clean up the mess.

  10. guilliam

    @vlade, sorry though this was meant to be published below your response to my earlier comment!

  11. Ignacio

    It has been said here that the UK will have to welcome chlorinated chicken from the US. More important than that will be the import of feed for poultry which I believe that in the UK depends very much on French wheat. The UK is the second poultry producer in the EU but yet it doesn’t cover 100% of consumption. The industry is very sensitive to feed prices. Are there chances of partial collapse after no deal Brexit?

    1. PlutoniumKun

      I would have thought chicken feed would be fairly easy to source – the question though would be less the issue of barriers than cost – as sterling goes down, the input costs are going to rise very significantly, with no export potential to help out producers. This could lead to a rapid increase in domestic food costs.

      1. larry

        It could, PK, but we both know that the government could subsidize the costs until the situation stabilizes or forever, whichever comes first.

        1. Ignacio

          Will the government also subsidize migrants to keep labour costs low?

          I don’t mean to know what will happen to the broiler industry but some disruption will almost certainly occur. The UK imports chicken breasts -I guess the processing industry- and producers export other chicken parts to the EU. Business profitability will be hurt when all those transactions don’t come easily and both producers and food processors will have to adapt to rapid changes. If they can do it with or whithout some temporal disruption is well above my pay grade.

        2. PlutoniumKun

          Subsidising the costs of imports means using foreign currency – and that will be at a premium post-Brexit.

  12. David

    Several of us have made the point that Brexit is likely to crash the British political system as we have known it for the last century or so. This is highly probable whatever the precise outcome, and very likely if Johnson forces a crash-out. I don’t think the political class, nose stuck in a book on the beach, has begun to realize this yet, which is why they are swapping clever ideas which essentially won’t work now, because things are too far gone. I’m sure Johnson doesn’t understand this : he thinks it’ll be business as usual with him in charge.
    The joker here is the capacity of the British system to move very fast when threatened, unencumbered by rigid texts. When panic sets in, which it will, we may see some remarkable developments, tearing up centuries of tradition if necessary. The British system can be ruthless and the future arguably belongs to those ready to be so.
    Johnson will be largely to blame, because he has abandoned the fundamental principle of Tory politics for two hundred years : know when to make tactical retreats to preserve the strategic position. By being so pig-headed he risks losing everything, and quite likely he will.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      That’s very perceptive David, thanks. The British Empire was built largely on ruthless opportunism rather than strategy, its very much a feature of the English establishment.

      I think the people around Corbyn think they can be that ruthless and can grab the opportunity, but I’m pretty sure they will find that they are amateurs at this compared to the broader Tory establishment (by which I mean the right wing establishment that extends way beyond party politics). As you say, Johnson may be at the vanguard of the new Tory radicalism, but those at the vanguard rarely survive the initial exchange of fire. He may be little more than cannon fodder.

      I have no idea whatever the form a new system will take, but I suspect it will not involve the Scots or NI Unionists.

      1. Ignacio

        Or blairites, who are ruthless experts on opportunism migth come to rule the Labour or whatever new political brand they create such as New Labour Party or Thirdwayish Party

      2. Lambert Strether

        > I think the people around Corbyn think they can be that ruthless and can grab the opportunity, but I’m pretty sure they will find that they are amateurs at this

        Not enough experience, at the leadership level or as a party. Lenin, Corbyn is not. The Bolshviks, Labour is not.

        1. Clive

          This cannot be stated enough times, nor is it properly or sufficiently widely understood.

          Labour adopted socialism in the 1920’s but it is a fundamental mistake to think something along the lines that, oh, Labour espouses socialism (or it is supposed to, but the Blairites have altogether other ideas, but we’ll leave this for another time…) and, oh, the Bolsheviks were socialists (alternately, closer to home for US readers, the Cuban revolutionaries were socialists, or some of them were), therefore the British Labour Party is somehow like the Bolsheviks or like the Latin American revolutionaries.

          It isn’t. My membership has taught me (you probably have to experience it first-hand to really understand it) it was, is and probably always will be a coalition of pressure groups purporting to be a political party.

          If the reader can understand that, they can understand a lot that, otherwise, seems, prima facie, inexcusable and inexplicable.

        2. Caoilte

          For the record – Lenin and the Bolsheviks were rank amateurs. They spent most of 1917 convinced that the revolution was not going to happen.

          Arguing for people with experience at the leadership level and as a party is what gets you Hillary and now Joe Biden as presidential candidates.

    2. Math is Your Friend

      “Several of us have made the point that Brexit is likely to crash the British political system as we have known it for the last century or so.”

      I’m not so sure of this.

      If I understand things, a lot of the deadlock arises from the Fixed Term Parliaments Act.

      Prior to that, a government that failed to pass a major whipped vote would have to resign, and that would trigger an election. True, in the current mess, that might happen more than once, but the end result would be a government that commanded a majority in Parliament, either of a single party, or as a coalition.

      The ability of the current government to fail, and fail, and fail again is what paralyzed the process. Simply returning to the system that had been in use for centuries would fix that problem.

      1. Mattski

        That’s a little like saying that if the U.S. Senate abolishes the filibuster issue, the sausage-making can grind on as before. While it’s true–and I know that you don’t intend to be reductive–it ignores the tectonic movement across the industrialized West as the formal political parties, now completely unwilling to address the needs of the people, start to dissolve.

        I don’t think that Corbyn’s socialist aims–as with Bernie’s–are at all the problem here. It is instead that Labour, like the Democrats, has come to be associated with liberal wealth and lack of concern for the working class (see Clinton and Blair). To the extent that Bernie remains a little further outside the capture of the party whose nomination he now seeks, he has slightly better odds of success. It may be a blessing in disguise if he loses and the lesson is truly learned, pivots and creates a new party of the left. There is ample space to build one. Corbyn, at the center of one party that is in effect two, has no such room for maneuver.

        1. Math is Your Friend

          I agree that there is also a major change underway, but it is not clear to me at this point whether existing parties will dissipate, or whether they transform to a new basis.

          One disturbing thing about Brexit was the apparent ability of the politicians and media to sell the public on a series of irrational beliefs.

          In addition, the internet seems to do a fairly good job of ‘dumbing down debate’ while discouraging nonconformist ideas. This may result in a whole bunch of disconnected echo chambers, where everyone finds their own beliefs encouraged and strengthened, regardless of external realities.

          The whole political process looks like it may become largely untethered from complex reality, which in the minds of the majority will be replaced by a simplistic map telling them what they want to see.

          I’ve been engaged in tracking the public commentary on mainstream media, and the polarization and dogmatically simplistic observations and ‘solutions’ is depressingly ubiquitous.

          Similarly, what the mainstream media do, social media does in spades, where locally divergent opinions are ruthlessly attacked, largely by people who don’t seem to realize that many of the causes they espouse were similarly heretical a few decades ago. It seems to be a force trying to freeze society into a rigid, unchanging form forever, though not everyone agrees precisely what that form should be.

          It is rapidly approaching the point where it is physically dangerous to have a non-majority opinion on social media. Nor is it necessarily safe to have a normal life opposed by a sufficiently radical fringe group, as evidenced by the rise in threats to farmers.

          Between that, with its accompanying simplistic tendencies, and the influence of money on elections and mass media, I am not optimistic that there will be a good resolution any time soon…. and that’s not even counting newly aggressive forms of nationalism that are popping up around the globe – another problem that could preempt less immediate issues.

    3. Tom

      Britain’s electoral system leads to predominantly two-party politics (same in the US congress). And the two-party political system has proven incapable of dealing with Brexit. Both main parties are divided, as is the country. (Leave/Remain and Labor/Conservative are orthogonal. You could draw a four-quadrants diagram of it.) And both prioritize interests of party over those of the public in this Brexit scenario.

      So it seems to me that there is pressing need for radical change in this system.

      1. Clive

        I echo your conclusions but can’t help but hum to myself that 70’s song (maybe it was 80’s) “Wishing on a Star”.

        Representative democracy is party democracy. You vote for both a representative acting as an individual (individual both in terms of their views and also how your own local constituency — as opposed to national — interests should be advanced where these are in conflict) but also for a party upon whose platform the candidate stands.

        What you — and every other commentator who opines thusly — is suggesting is to somehow unpick this and reweave it into something else. But this has rumbled on for nearly 400 years (certainly in the U.K. it has). If it was going to be solved in a simple solution that fixes everything, it probably would have been by now.

        1. Tom

          > What you — and every other commentator who opines thusly — is suggesting is to somehow unpick this and reweave it into something else.

          No. I suggest the Labor and Conservative parties have past their usefulness and it’s time us to vote them out and something else in.

          1. Clive

            You wrote, in your conclusion:

            So it seems to me that there is pressing need for radical change in this system.

            You used the word “system”. Not “parties” or “who people vote for”. Or similar. And your opening sentence referenced “system”, too. You used the word again in your second sentence. If you don’t mean “system”, don’t use the word “system”. It’s not a reader’s fault you can’t write up your own arguments accurately. That’s your responsibility. If you write “I don’t like oranges”, a commenter replies “it’s not easy finding alternative fruits to oranges” and you respond “I was referring to apples, not oranges”, you are, at best, confusing yourself and looking silly, at worse being intentionally obtuse.

            1. Tom

              This particular two-party system, i.e. Labor and Conservative, is the only one I’ve known. It’s not fit for purpose.

              1. Clive

                The Liberal Democrats were in coalition government with the Conservative party from 2010 to 2015 so you have known a non two-party system. But you obviously either forgot about it or chose to ignore it because it didn’t fit with your argument.

                And there were several coalition governments in the 1920s and 30s. There’s nothing inherently two-party about the U.K. parliamentary system. It’s just how voters evolved to use it.

                And try telling either Labour or the Conservatives there’s only a two party system with the Brexit Party, the Liberal Democrats and the SNP breathing down their necks. They’d laugh, hollowly, in your face.

    4. Maff

      David, you say about Johnson that he has (failed to) “…know when to make tactical retreats to preserve the strategic position. By being so pig-headed he risks losing everything…”

      I read it very differently. The only way to get Brexit before the Conservatives face an election is No Deal. The elephant-in-the-room for the Conservatives is the Brexit Party. If he can’t neuter that threat then they are sunk. For that he needs Brexit (and see above). All else is detail. Seen in that light, his course is eminently rational.

      1. skippy

        I get confused when humans ascribe – rationality – to Game Theory when second cousin behavioral studies indicate that metric might have a high probability of agency attached to what ever dominate individual or group is dominate … in our case some in antiquity called it the madness of kings …

      2. David

        I don’t deny that there is a kind of rationality at work here. I simply think that charging pig-headed into a major political transformation with no fallback position is foreign to British political traditions and to the gradualist Tory tradition. It virtually guarantees failure either before or after the event and may be the effective end of the Tory Party even if Brexit happens.

        1. Clive

          It’s also arguably that we’ve had 40 years of incrementalism and it is that which has ended up pleasing nobody (neither federalists / European integrationists nor Eurosceptics — witness endless vacillating over joining the euro, Schengen, the rebate, an EU seat on the UN Security Council…)

          Forty years of unsuccessfully trying to square the circle. Frankly, I’m amazed it lasted as long as it did.

          1. David

            What I was getting at (badly expressed) was that the Tory party is first and foremost interested in power, and has over the centuries made many accommodations to keep it. It changed incrementally to the Left for much of its history and more recently incrementally to the Right, but avoided sudden dramatic changes which might alienate its electorate. Now we have the father and mother of all violent changes’ imposed from on high and almost overnight in political terms. I think this will wind up destroying the Tories: they have forgotten that their first priority is power.

  13. Peter

    So maybe I’m missing something here, but won’t the discussion on the Northern Ireland border change significantly after a hard Brexit?

    Right now, we seem to be focusing on how the UK should be adults and take responsibility to avoid creating a hard border in Ireland. Clearly the UK is determined not be to responsible and, unless something unexpected happens, there will be a no deal Brexit. That would mean there’s going to be a hard NI border. So whenever the negotiations restart, it’s not going to be about avoiding a border, it’s going to be about dealing with a border that’s already in place.

    The nature of those negotiations will depend on how much of a disaster this border actually is. However, the UK has control over it’s side of the border, so it could make the border coming from Ireland into Northern Ireland as soft as it wants. Ireland, under EU rules, can’t do much about what it has to do for traffic coming from Northern Ireland into Ireland. So the pain point seems more likely to be things coming into Ireland or Ireland shipping things into the UK for ultimate export back to the EU, since the UK has larger exporting infrastructure than Ireland.

    So again I might be missing something big here, but it seems like the EU member Ireland will be feeling the most pain with a hard NI border. That seems like it might alter the dynamics of the negotiations between the UK and the EU whenever they restart. Of course, the UK is going to be feeling pain about everything else, so this might now matter too much.

    1. Anonymous 2

      If the border is soft on the NI side but hard on the Republic’s side, then RoI exporters will have no immediate problems selling into NI but NI exporters will find it difficult, perhaps even impossible, to sell into the RoI. To me that means that it is NI which will suffer the most. NI farmers are reportedly very dependent upon selling their goods into the RoI. Near the Border on the NI side, as I understand it, the population is mostly Republican anyway and consider themselves Irish not British. If many of their farms go bust as a result of Brexit, the risks that they resort to violence to express their anger cannot be discounted. That would be bound to affect the whole NI economy.

      Then of course there is the issue that WTO rules supposedly prevent discriminatory behaviour. The UK might try arguing national security considerations but others may not be sympathetic as it would be a problem the UK has created for itself.

    2. Tom

      > won’t the discussion on the Northern Ireland border change significantly after a hard Brexit?

      It will. You pointed out some practical issues of a hard border. But no-deal Brexit, the only kind of hard Brexit on the table, also means direct rule (i.e. Northern Ireland will be administered from London by UK Government cabinet ministers). Many fear a hard border and direct rule could cause return to war.

      > we seem to be focusing on how the UK should be adults and take responsibility to avoid creating a hard border in Ireland.

      Depends who you refer to with “we”. British politicians and news media have done everything they can to avoid focus on this problem. But there is no way to square this circle. The UK cannot be outside the EU with autonomy over trade, regulations and laws without a hard border. The only kinds of Brexit without the border are very soft and involve ceding so much sovereignty to the EU that most Leavers abhore the idea.

      So when no-deal happens I think you’re right, the discussion will change very quickly. There will be no way to duck the issue any more.

      For me, this unwillingness to face the realities of the UK-EU land border is the great British derangement. It’s very hard for me to understand. Some kind of national wishful thinking? That bubble will pop. Only ratifying the Withdrawal Agreement or canceling Brexit can prevent it.

      1. Clive

        But also EU and the Republic of Ireland derangement. Claiming that only the membership of EU produced peace in NI was always building a castle in the air. I won’t query how true that statement may be, but even if it was to be accepted as an incontrovertible fact, there was absolutely no guarantee the U.K. would remain a Member State in perpetuity.

        The EU was never that highly regarded by the general public and it’s popularity has waned steadily the more EU-ish the EU became. It also isn’t written anywhere the EU has to exist in its currently-understood form (or any form).

        The more external dependencies which a particular steady-state has, especially if there are one or two key dependencies on externalities which cannot be substituted, the less likely it is to persist in the long term.

        I won’t attempt here to describe the incredible complexities — and inconsistency — in both NI politics and also NI society. Suffice to say that crude, simplistic “if A happens then B will result” statements lack the sophistication required to correctly analyse what happens in NI or what may happen in the future.

        1. Jabbawocky

          When the Good Friday Agreement was drawn up it was surely on the assumption that both countries would be a member of the EU in perpetuity? Your argument is a straw man is it not: the issue is that the GFA requires both nations to be in a common trading block, which just happens to be the EU. Nobody is saying the EU brought peace to NI, only that if one nation is an EU member, then de facto EU membership of the other is necessary for the functioning of the GFA.

          Lets be clear what the NI border issue is really about. Its about the American right using the UK/Ireland border as a trojan horse to break EU protectionism. For whatever privilages are granted to NI without a free trade agreement, must under WTO MFN terms be granted to the USA. The UK is a mere pawn, its citizens duped by foreign-funded PR campaigns, with Johnson running a Vichy government, subjugated to the Trump regime, dedicated to prising open the EU’s external border by ditching the backstop.

          The fight for the UK to control its own future is the fight to stay in the EU, or closely aligned to the EU. Its the fight for the dignity of a nation: will the UK be an autonomous nation, using the power of EU membership to further its global reach. Or will it be reduced simply to a tool for US foreign policy, whatever the cost to british citizens?

          1. Clive

            You fundamentally misunderstand the principle at the heart of the Good Friday Agreement — cross community consent.

            You can’t, under this basic and inviolable concept of the Agreement come up with a solution which only one of the communities in Northern Ireland approves of. If you find a “solution” to a problem which one community signs up to but the other doesn’t, you don’t have a “solution” at all. Your argument is that Nationalists or non-aligned (like Alliance supporters, for example) like the Backstop, so Unionists must do, too, because they’re outnumbered.

            This is not how the Good Friday Agreement works. It is, rather, the antithesis of how the Good Friday Agreement should work.

            The Atlantic explored this concept in long form a few days ago

            Yet this is not how politics works in Northern Ireland under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement. The central achievement of the 1998 peace deal, which brought the Troubles to an end—and which the backstop is supposed to protect—was the trade-off by which Northern Ireland would remain part of the U.K. until a majority in Northern Ireland said otherwise. In exchange, direct rule from London was brought to an end and all sides agreed that power would be shared between nationalists, who support unifying Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland, and unionists, who support staying part of the United Kingdom. In other words, majority rule, which had governed Northern Ireland until the Troubles, was replaced.

            Citing simple majority support for the backstop now misses the point about how Northern Ireland functions in the post–Good Friday Agreement era: Decisions must be agreed on by both sides in there. How many U.S. representatives now warning about jeopardizing the Good Friday Agreement—or indeed, British or EU politicians opining on the matter—understand this core achievement of the peace agreement remains unclear.

            And before some wit leaps in with an “oh, well, Brexit wasn’t consented to in Northern Ireland, so that’s why…”, under the Good Friday Agreement sovereignty of the province was retained by the U.K. and this means that treaties are entered into or withdrawn from by the U.K. and the U.K. government retained exclusive rights to do that. This, too, was written into the Good Friday Agreement. If the parties to it hadn’t wanted that, they shouldn’t have signed up to it.

            Shorter, all sides (the U.K. government, the Republic’s government, the loyalists and nationalists, have to agree on something they can all live with. Saying, in effect, “my rights outrank your rights” is what’s got everyone into the current mess to begin with.

            I despair when I read so much “you’ll come off worse if you do X”-ing or “Y will put Z in a bad position if they don’t do A, B and C”-isms in the commentaries on the state of Northern Ireland vis-a-vis Brexit. Hasn’t a hundred years of history shown that doesn’t solve anything?

            1. Jabbawocky

              Clive I see your point, but I’m not yet totally convinced by this argument in full. My objection would be primarily that the necessary arrangements for cross party agreement pertain only to devolved matters and how they should be decided in the NI assembly as a matter of procedure. Clearly we are not dealing with devolved matters or decisions of the assembly. The operation of the border has never been a devolved matter.

              Secondly, the the DUP always opposed the GFA. So its operation does not require the consent of the DUP.

              Thirdly is not the operation of the border is a matter for the all ireland council, established by the GFA? The key function of the council is to protect the rights of all citizens of the island of Ireland. Is it not these rights gained throught he council as a result of the GFA that the backstop seeks to preserve, not simply those of NI residents?

              Of course i may miss something important…

              1. Clive

                Yes, I think we broadly agree. I entirely concur that the resolution to what’s best for the border should have lain (laid?, lies? — sorry, can’t think what word is correct right now!) with the All Ireland Council. A mutually acceptable solution should be hammered out.

                I suppose it’s arguable — and I would argue — that the Withdrawal Agreement was a genuine bilateral accord (and so even if it hasn’t been formally agreed by the Council, it would certainly get the agreement) when May was Prime Minister. The problem was, of course, the UK parliament wouldn’t ratify it.

                It should, now, be a case of “back to the drawing board” — and try to come up with some acceptable compromise — or the UK should be given as long as necessary to get the existing Agreement through the UK parliament. The snag is, will or (or, past tense) would it ever do so? And here, I can’t figure what the EU was doing by only giving an extension until October. That made no sense at all — it should have given an indefinite extension (or near-enough — let’s say 5 years). It’s doubtful that, if during a timeframe that long, the Withdrawal Agreement wouldn’t have gotten passed if only because there was a limit (this limit being almost reached in Easter earlier this year where the UK population and the political class was so heartily fed up of Brexit, it was almost ready to pass it) to how long everyone wanted this to keep dragging on. Or else, there was no point in brinksmanship (like is going on at the moment with Johnson and the EU) because no-one can have brinksmanship going on for years and years and years. So a further compromise proposal would have emerged.

                I can’t give any credit to any of the participants in all this. They all emerge looking various degrees of shabbiness, mendacity and trying to apply leverage where there isn’t really any to be genuinely had. The people of Northern Ireland (and the south, too, far that matter) deserve better. The people of the UK deserve better too, but equally well, speaking as a UK citizen, so I can safely and legitimately opine, we’re not going to get any better until we — collectively — demand better of our politicians.

        2. Tom

          The only “if A happens then B will result” statement I made was that hard/no-deal Brexit will significantly change the discussion on the NI border.

          Who claims “that only the membership of EU produced peace in NI.”?

          1. Clive

            To quote what you wrote:

            Many fear a hard border and direct rule could cause return to war.

            If you’re not one of the “many”, then you’re saying the “many” are incorrect that only membership of the EU is conducive to peace in Northern Ireland. But if that is the case, you have to state something along the lines of “many might think this, but I’m not one of them” or else by repeating and amplifying what “many” are apparently saying, you’re implicitly agreeing with them.

            If you are one of the “many” the you are, unarguably, in agreement with them.

            Trying to hide behind “many say [something], I’m merely repeating what they say, but I myself am not, necessarily, saying it (it’s just my little guessing game I’m playing on you)” is sophistry — and you have to get up pretty early in the morning to get away with sophistry with me.

            1. Tom

              Nobody knows what’s going to happen. I have read concerned opinion from enough people who know more about it than me to become concerned myself. I don’t think they are wrong to fear that reintroduction of a border could lead to a return to violence.

              But mentioning that is not the same as claiming that “only membership of the EU is conducive to peace in Northern Ireland”. I made no reference to anyone who says or believes this. You introduce this straw-man interpretation in your response. It’s not mine.

              1. Clive

                Unfortunately “many people” (and now I see from the above we’re being introduced to a presumable associate of theirs, “enough people”) aren’t here, so we can’t ask them. All we have is you, acting as their interpreter. This is a logical fallacy referred to as an appeal to authority (or you might be going for an appeal to popularity, you’re getting so vague now I really can’t tell) with perhaps a dose of the rarely spotted homunculus fallacy thrown in for good measure.

                And it’s not straw manning to say that you are invoking a clear cause-and-effect outcome but then denying the commonly-accepted label of that cause-and-effect. EU membership negates a customs and phytosanitary border between the U.K. and the Republic. The U.K. leaving the EU may cause one or other or both to be necessary. No other force, event or happenstance apart from the U.K. leaving the EU will lead to a border operation change between the two countries (certainly not in the foreseeable future and certainly not in the context of this post and this comments thread). So if it isn’t the U.K. leaving the EU that’s creating the risk of a variation in border arrangements, with the associated implications, as you postulate them, to peace in Northern Ireland, what else are you inferring will have that effect?

                There has to be something else, otherwise it’s EU membership which is responsible for the design and operation of the U.K./Republic border and the leaving of the EU by the U.K. which is changing it and will cause, to use your phrasing, the “reintroduction of a border would lead to a return to violence” outcome.

    3. arte

      I am a complete outsider, so this is probably a very silly question. But I am old enough to remember the 1990s news when it seemed like the violence had gone on forever and would never end.

      What are the odds of a renewed bombing campaign in the post no deal Brexit chaos, in effect kicking someone when they are down? Or has the world, and Northern Ireland, actually changed in that sense for the better?

      1. Clive

        Possible — and it’s ongoing at a low (amateurish) level right now.

        But policing of and intelligence in support of counter terrorism is 1) an area which is given generous funding and resource-allocation and 2) has far more sophisticated tools at its disposal than 20 or 30 years ago. And in the end, it achieves nothing, or if it moves the dial, it is in combination with a political settlement.

        Plus the UK political environment isn’t the same. 30 years ago, the notion that you’d have an English nationalist like Johnson in charge would have been inconceivable. Johnson is quite prepared to tell the Republic directly — and the EU by proxy — “if you want it, it’s yours, you can have it and you’re welcome to it” (“it” being the six counties). In doing so, even though he’s the height of irresponsibility, he’s in effect calling a hundred years’ of nationalist bluff. To the republicans, Johnson would say: you keep banging on about reuniting Ireland, but I’m not convinced that’s what you really want to put the effort into achieving — it’s time to put up, or shut up, and I don’t care which you decide. The same goes for Scotland.

      2. Caoilte

        It took an incredible amount of shit stirring by the British Army to get violence going in the seventies. I think it is more likely that the NI economy will crash, Protestants will emigrate, Catholics will form a majority seccessionist bloc and enough pressure will be applied via the USA for Britain to open discussions about a new form of joint sovereignty with the ROI that puts NI inside the EU.

  14. Math is Your Friend

    “the UK has control over it’s side of the border, so it could make the border coming from Ireland into Northern Ireland as soft as it wants”

    What about WTO ‘most favoured nation’ rules?

    If they make the border soft to the EU, they have to make it as soft for anyone else, in the absence of a trade deal with the EU.

    That’s the same issue as with dropping tariffs on food to prevent shortages – if you do it for one, you must do it for all.

    And as pointed out by others, a decade to get a deal with the EU is not improbable.

    Also, NI and Ireland will suffer similarly – the Irish border has quite a bit more crossings that the much longer Canada/US border, and a simple trip might involve crossing the border several times to avoid very long detours.

    For that matter, supply chains go back and forth over the border, often multiple times for a product. Check out the dairy industry on the island, for example.

  15. SteveB

    “Never let a crisis go to waste” But……………………..

    First one must create a crisis!

  16. Ignacio

    Just to emphasize how UK and the rest of the EU economy are entrenched and the many small or large disruptions that migth come with no deal Brexit, I want to comment on a mostly unknown trading industry that is widely extended in the Mediterranean coast of Spain. There are, to attend UK tourists and residents, hundreds of British supermarkets. Some of them have already closed but there are yet many, usually small, supermarkets providing resident Britons with their favourite home foods (such as there are Argentinian, Ecuatorian, peruvian etc although these concentrate in large cities). Here in Javea, (The tip of the Mediterranean nose of Spain), the British community is so large as to have bigger and specialised supermarkets. Today a went to find British style bacon (from German porcine breeders) to an Overseas-Iceland supermarket. I took a look at frozen chicken preparations and not surprisingly found a majority based on chicken breast prepared as to make tikka masala and the like. This was coherent with information I found before on the UK being a large broiler producer, is also an importer of chicken breasts. I wondered whether those bags of frozen chicken breast pieces were made with Polish or Spanish chicken breasts exported to the UK, processed and then exported to Spain to satisfy demand from British retirees. What will happen to supply chains like these in a no deal event is something that amuses my poor brain.

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