Brexit: Focusing the Mind

As most interested readers already know well, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson took the aggressive step of exploiting established practices to limit the amount of time in which Parliament is in session before the Brexit date of October 31. Even though it was hardly a secret that proroguing Parliament was an option, it appears it wasn’t taken seriously.

Mind you, as much as the Government’s ploy is awfully cheeky, it’s not as if Parliament was distinguishing itself in terms of its seriousness in trying to stop Brexit. Parliament took its customary summer recess. Perhaps I missed it, but I did not see any serious effort afoot to curtail the normal autumn caucus recess. As a result, the practical impact of this gambit is to reduce the time in which Parliament was set to be in session on its normal schedule by a mere four days.

Nevertheless, the press and a big swathe of the general public reacted as if Johnson were planning to roast babies alive. For instance from Boris Johnson’s suspension of parliament is an affront to democracy in the Financial Times:

Boris Johnson has detonated a bomb under the constitutional apparatus of the United Kingdom. The prime minister’s request to the Queen to suspend parliament for up to five weeks, ostensibly to prepare a new legislative programme, is without modern precedent. It is an intolerable attempt to silence parliament until it can no longer halt a disastrous crash-out by the UK from the EU on October 31. The seat of British democracy, long admired worldwide, is being denied a say on the most consequential decision facing the country in more than four decades. So, too, are the British people — in whose name Mr Johnson claims to be acting. It is time for parliamentarians to bring down his government in a no-confidence vote, paving the way for an election in which the people can express their will.

Help me. This sort of misinformation is what got the UK in this mess in the first place. I’m no fan of Brexit, but where was the Financial Times when Parliament approved the Withdrawal Act? Did they miss that the only reason Parliament had a say after that was that the Government lost a court case on the grounds that a withdrawal agreement would affect citizens’ rights? And most important, that Brexit is a default, and the only ways out are the Withdrawal Agreement that May negotiated and Parliament repeatedly rejected or revoking Article 50, which is still a third rail issue for most MPs? And more recently, that the Institute of Government described at some length why it would be very difficult for Parliament to stop a Prime Minister that was determined to deliver Brexit?

But the pink paper has plenty of company:

It appears that Johnson’s move had the effect of exposing various “Stop Brexit” unicorns as ponies wearing funny headgear, not that the British citizens who are outraged would see it that way.

Quite honestly, I’m not sure what the point of poking a stick in the opposition’s eye was. Johnson appears to have violated one of the cardinal rules of politics: never get in your enemy’s way when he is making a mistake. Even though Corbyn has been threatening a no confidence vote for some time, and in theory that would be the most likely path to unseat Johnson, he still doesn’t have the votes. Not only are their pro-Brexit Labour MPs who would be expected to abstain, Labour is doing badly in the polls. Turkeys don’t normally vote for Thanksgiving.

Similarly, it wasn’t necessary to prorogue Parliament to push new elections, even if they were to happen, until after the Brexit drop dead date. By not giving up its summer recess, Parliament sacrificed the chance to have a general election before October 31. And even with Johnson’s affront a new galvanizing force, it’s hard to see the LibDems getting over themselves and backing a caretaker version of a “government of national unity” formed only to hold a second referendum.2

However, as Clive pointed out in comments yesterday, and as has appeared to have been widely overlooked, those additional days make it impossible under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act for Parliament to execute a successful vote of no confidence and hold new elections before November 7. Note that readers previously gamed out1 that even in the event that Johnson lost a vote of no confidence, he was not bound to call new elections immediately, so he could have gotten to more or less the same place on his own initiative. As Andrew Rawnsley pointed out in the Guardian earlier this month:

If a government loses a confidence vote, the law allows 14 days for either the prime minister to regain a Commons majority or for someone else to assemble one. If no one can, there is then an election, the date of which is to some extent set at the prime minister’s discretion. The law is mute on whether Mr Johnson is entitled to hole himself up at Number 10 during that fortnight and time the election so that Britain will have crashed out of the EU before the people get to vote. Labour has called this “an abuse of power” and asked the cabinet secretary to give an opinion. Sir Mark Sedwill is thought to agree that it would be an abuse, but even if he did make that ruling, it is not clear how he could enforce it.

Was Johnson trying to bait Parliament into a non-confidence vote, despite the whip counts saying it’s not on? Recall that Richard North has argued that a November 7 general election is optimal timing from Johnson’s standpoint. October 31 is a Thursday. Businesses will schedule shipments so as to avoid that Friday and early the following week in the hopes (and even later for enterprises that have more latitude) to allow for new border procedures to shake out. Thus Johnson could go into an election saying he had delivered Brexit and none of the horrible outcomes that Project Fear had said were in store had (yet) happened.

One is therefore left wondering what the point of this gambit really was. A Trumpian move to dominate the press and among other things, divert attention from leaks about the consequences of a no deal, including shortages of food and drugs, a mess at borders, particularly at the hard border in Ireland? To convince Europeans, as if they needed convincing, that the UK is prepared to crash out? The Guardian reported that EU leaders made disapproving noises and duly registered that a no deal was even more likely:

The plan to suspend parliament for five weeks, which would drastically reduce MPs’ ability to influence changes to the withdrawal agreement or seek a delay, is seen in Brussels as a move to overpower rebels and force through Johnson’s Brexit agenda.

Admittedly, there are plans to thwart Johnson, such as Gina Miller’s effort to check Johnson in court, a petition against the proroguing that is already at over a million signatures, and protests, but it’s hard to see how they get anywhere.

As much as it appears that Johnson has played a trump card and checkmated his opponents, my take is the reverse: that he actually opened up a new path for at least stalling Brexit and the widespread reaction in the UK, that Johnson’s gambit is an affront to democracy, has given the opposition a new lease on life.

The one way that Parliament could check Johnson is via legislation to order him to seek an extension or revoke Article 50. Merely seeking an extension won’t accomplish much; the EU would probably grant one (out of not wanting to be the ones to trigger Brexit) but only a short one in the absence of a reason to think anything would change. An extension plus, say a new referendum would be a different matter, but the UK is a way away from that.

Before, even with Parliament having more days in session, it was hard to see how Parliament could to more than pass hand-waving motions that would not impede Johnson. The Government had decided it didn’t need to pass legislation to change existing UK laws to cope with Brexit, denying Parliament the opportunity to attach amendments. Since the Government controls Parliamentary time, it could simply avoid putting any bills to a vote to continue to deny Parliament the opportunity to make mischief. And as we’ve observed, “private bills” virtually never pass, with some of the reasons including that all it takes is a single MP’s objection to kill them.

But Ian Dunt points out that the Queen’s speech, which will take place before October 31, opens up an opportunity for amendments:

Some of the reporting suggests MPs have lost the ability to stop no-deal. That’s wrong. This timetable still leaves parliament sitting from the 3rd of September to around the 12th. There would then be two weeks before no-deal for MPs to stop it. And there will now be a Queen’s Speech for them to use to attach amendments to. There is still time to block the government.

And in a nuclear option, they would still have the option of a no-confidence vote in late October, and picking anyone – anyone at all, the time constraint adding urgency to the discussion – to act as caretaker, extend Article 50 and set a date for an election.

Polly Toynbee at the Guardian also believes that Johnson has galvanized opponents who preferred to stand aside until late in the game:

This assault on parliament is galvanising those soft Tory opponents who were prevaricating, the ones who preferred to wait until late October to give Johnson a chance to strike a new EU deal. Now, say Dominic Grieve and others, they all realise the one week before prorogation must be used to legislate against a no-deal Brexit. There is just time, there are manoeuvres, from seizing the timetable to a humble address and other ingenious devices murmured sotto voce lest the government hear their plans. It can be done, must be done, double quick, it’s too late to wait until they return in October.

Mind you, the odds that the anti-Brexit forces will actually manage to herd cats and come up with a plan and execute it are still remote. Any path that accomplishes even the not-terribly-productive-in-the-long-term aim of just getting an extension still has a lot of moving parts. And anyone who understand cumulative probability knows that even if the odds of success at every step in a multi-step process are high, the resulting odds of success wind up being middling. To put it bluntly, even path of delay face considerable obstacles. But the likelihood of success has gone from virtually nil to low.

My best guess is that it’s too late to change the path to Brexit much, that the most the opposition will be able to pull of is a short extension, say to the end of December, and even that will prove to be a tall order. But as I’ve said before, it would be better if I were proven wrong.


1 Apologies for not giving credit, but it would take a lot of digging. So if you want to pipe up, please do so and I’ll amend the post with a link.

2 Aside from widespread antipathy towards Corbyn, another problem is that “caretaker government” and “second referendum” don’t go together. The first referendum took over a year. It won’t be any easier to formulate the question and it’s likely to be more fraught now that the complexity of the matter is a bit better understood. You can’t put all other policy decisions of significance on hold in the interest of sticking to the caretaker notion for that long.

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    1. DaveH

      This Overton Window-shifting of terminology really needs to be called out. The negotiated deal arranged by the last Government was a “hard” Brexit by the understood defintion when the term was coined. Outside the economic structures of the EU. Compared to a “soft” version, remaining inside those economic structures while leaving the political ones.

      What is set to happen on October 31st is not “hard” Brexit and really needs a term more befitting. “The end of Thelma & Louise” Brexit gets my vote.

  1. ambrit

    Oh my. I do feel sorry for my cousins back in England.
    A “Crash Out” Brexit will usher in a field laboratory exercise in “Disaster Capitalism.” We over here on the other side of “The Pond” had better take copious notes on how England copes with Brexit as I foresee something similar happening to America in the near to middle term.
    Seeing as Boris Johnson has embodied the worst of the “Elite” class’s foibles, will the backlash have a serious effect on the status of the Royals? (The Queen and Family had better have started planning for a big public relations push months ago. This time next year, stories about the ‘glamourous’ lifestyles of the Royals might engender the ‘wrong’ response from the “Commons.”)

    1. paul

      a field laboratory exercise in “Disaster Capitalism.”

      That is pretty much what the deadbeat dimwits that sit as a cosplay cabinet fervently wish for.

      Their idolatory of margaret thatcher conveniently sidesteps her enormous good fortune.

      They won’t have a large public sector to sell off, nothing approaching scotland’s oil revenues coming on stream, a working welfare system to patch over their incompetence and no galtieri to save them when,even with those advantages, she and her sponsors completely messed up.

      Flogging off the NHS is all they can hope for, and that is not going to do many people any good.

      Labour had a perfect opportunity to stop a no deal with joanna cherry’s bill back in april, (they even could have blamed it on the SNP) but they didn’t.

      PS, it’s not just england that’s leaving.

    2. Adam1

      I may be overly cynical in my old age, but i increasingly get the sense that someone really wants the maximum chaos to occur with the hopes of taking advantage of that situation.

      1. cj51

        “wants the maximum chaos”
        There are always those types of people.
        It is called using the “Shock Doctrine”.

  2. kimsarah

    It’s high time someone had the gumption to call out the Remainers and show them who they are — insubordinate, treasonous obstacles to the will of the people.
    The sky will not fall if there is Brexit without a deal. Freaking fear-mongerers.

    1. fajensen

      Sure, all the planning and forethought put into Brexit amounts to: “Here, hold my drink and Watch This!”

      All fun and games until gravity and inertia takes over, but, the upsides are the the spectators may like the performance and maybe the globalists can salvage some neat stuff for themselves from the wreckage.

      1. Matthew G. Saroff


        A hard Brexit will suck like 1000 hoovers going at once, but it will be better than predicted by the EU, (Mad Max) though worse than predicted by the leave crowd. *Emerald City)

        The real question is where the UK will be in 5 years, and if it is significantly better than a hellscape, then there will be more people talking about Grexit, Itexit, Spexit, Pexit, etc.

          1. DaveH

            The bigger sin is surely the lack of imagination in the hypothetical names.

            2-4-6-8 Maltaway


          2. Matthew G. Saroff

            You are correct. I misspoke. I apologize.

            The EU have not made such statements in any official capacity, the statements have been made by journalists and politicians (I heard a senior member of the SNP on NPR doing so today)

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      With all due respect, I could readily deem your comment to be a violation of our site’s written comments Policies. This is making shit up, pure and simple. I have no reason to tolerate disinformation. Keep this up and you won’t be welcome here.

      Just look at what the loss of data sharing means and get back to me. Project Yellowhammer (contrary to Gove’s falsehoods) internally found in August 2019, as in on a current basis, the UK would have food and pharma shortages, plus considerable disruptions. UK businesses are freaking out but most are afraid to speak up because they’ve been told Ultras would find a way to punish them. And most problems don’t get better any time soon because the UK will be mounting, all on its little own, what are called non-tarrif trade barriers. It will be a pain in the ass to do any export business out of the UK so companies that had been manufacturing in the UK will shift operations out over time and either eventually exit or downsize so as to serve a UK only market.

      And how about the domestic impact of loss of EU workers? Colonel Smithers said over a year ago that the UK racing industry was suffering because a lot of low level workers were EU nationals and they were leaving over the uncertainty, and their replacements didn’t begin to cut it in terms of expertise. The NHS has 5% of its doctors and 10% of its nurses as EU nationals. Tell me how well it functions once they leave (as they have also started to do).

      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you, Yves and the NC community.

        I can update from both sides of the channel.

        I was in Normandy last (long) week-end and, yesterday evening, caught up with friends back in Buckinghamshire this week for today’s county show (a bit like the state fairs in the US).

        At the races in Deauville last Friday and Sunday, many British based owners and breeders were in talks with the French authorities (led by Edouard de Rothschild) and trainers and boarding house operators as they fear the disruption caused by the end of free movement, but are also attracted by the better prize money and stable EUR income. This has been the case all summer. Many continental stable staff have returned home or gone to Ireland and France.

        Buckinghamshire farmers are increasingly pooling resources as farm labour becomes scarce. Across the border in Oxfordshire, one poultry farmer has closed two of his three farms. I have heard the same in the south west. The big / aristocratic landowners, not just in Buckinghamshire, are increasingly pooling resources and terminating tenancies, which have often been in the same family for generations and with the tenancies the lodgings, and taking farms back “in hand” in advance of the loss of EU subsidies and sufficient labour. The former tenants then become homeless.

        At my TBTF, hard Brexit preparations along with the big restructuring are accelerating. Redundancies are expected in the next fortnight instead of over Q4. Even activity that does not require an EU “passport”, essentially investment and ancillary services, are being transferred to Frankfurt HQ and Amsterdam for balance sheet booking purposes and other EU27 centres, mainly Dublin, for admin support. This week, Citigroup is recruiting compliance staff for Dublin, but insists on an EU27 passport. It’s not just my employer, cuts are expected at UK law firms, including the “magic circle”.

        Diabetics are usually given three months’ worth of insulin. The ones I know in Buckinghamshire and Kent have asked for six months, but been given, if at all, four months’ supply.

        Back to Normandy and the neighbouring Hauts de France region, friends I spoke to report a slow down in activity, largely tourism and agriculture, and fear a recession is around the corner. It’s not just caused by British visitors and the inclement weather. The discontent with Macron appears to have receded, but has not gone away, especially in rural areas. The regions are getting a wider range of visitors, but spending is down.

        1. FKorning

          Thankyou for this. I had not even considered leased land and Tenant Farms. With the latest news that 30% of london owners are panic selling (I wonder how much intersection there is with London European property owners), it’s clear that an asset grab is under-way.

        2. Colonel Smithers

          Plus the two regions supply the UK with petrochemicals, food, drink, electricity and workers. They are the most affected in France by Brexit.

      2. Colonel Smithers

        @ Yves.

        I forgot to add that a big % of staff at Buckinghamshire hospitals are from the EU. Some departments are staffed entirely by EU27 nationals. They are beginning to drift away. It’s the same with social workers and care home workers. Waiting lists are lengthening and services are being cut. Replacements are being found in Zimbabwe, India and Philippines, but not at sufficient pace and in sufficient numbers.

        Perhaps, if the MP, David Lidington, paid attention to what goes on locally, he might have piped up, especially when Theresa May and her small group of acolytes drafted her Lancaster House speech.

      3. Tom

        When did the left, cause I thought this was some kind of left wing site, become so obsessed with protecting free trade? And as for the workers, do you think the EU has been any good for workers? All victories for workers have happened inside national states, nation startes are the best protector against attacks on us. It’s just tragic the so-called left now side with the undemocratic, extreme capitalist EU, even the weak Corbyn. I can understand teenagers in London with little knowledge about politics, history and propaganda would buy into the “EU is freedom and love and democracy” stuff, but I expect more on a site like this. Also, fear mongering is exactly what it is. They did the same in Norway before the 94 referedum.
        Actually I hope Britain doesn’t leave EU, so everyone ONCE AGAIN can see how undemocratic it is.
        Of course Johnson is a s***bag, but he is right about this. And do you people really think 17,4 million voters, the winners, should be ignored, based on The Guardian level arguments, “it’s the Russians, they are racists etc.etc.”?

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          First, we are not a left wing site. We are realists who know a bit about finance and economics and also believe in social justice. We regularly tangle with doctrinaire leftists because they too often have no idea what they are talking about. You fit that pattern to a T.

          Second, if you think Brexit, and particularly a hard Brexit, isn’t going to create widespread misery in the UK and result in a significant and permanent reduction in the standard of living, you are delusional. Some people at the top will be able to profit massively from a USSR-collapse style plutocratic land grab. The rest, particularly struggling ordinary workers in the UK’s analogue to the Rust Belt, will be considerably worse off. And you defend this out of some sort of naive anti EU view?

          Third, one of the big selling points of Brexit to its backers has been that it will enable the weakening of workers’ rights and environmental protections. In case you missed it, it was the UK, not the EU, which was one of the ground zeros of neoliberalism, and it is the UK (along with German ordoliberals) who have been major propagators of neoliberal policies in the EU. The idea that the UK would be less neoliberal outside the EU is batshit.

          Fourth, we have never once made the bullshit claims you make in your final paragraph, nor have any of our readers in comments. Nor do have we EVER romanticized “free trade”; from the very outset of this site, we’ve pointed out that the system in which we operate is managed trade, and countries like the US have played it to favor corporations over workers. Straw manning is a violation of our written site Policies. You can go to hell for accusing us of positions we never took.

          We’ve made a very detailed critique of why Brexit will be a disaster and you need to familiarize yourself with it rather than going off half baked.

          The fact that the EU has serious flaws does not mean that leaving it, particularly in the utterly reckless way the UK is going about it, will make it better off on any dimension, including its vaunted national sovereignity. The UK as a small open economy outside any regional trading block will be even more of a rule taker than it was in the EU, where it was very effective, much to the annoyance of quite a few member states, of defending its interests and getting that embedded in policy.

          1. Noel Nospamington

            Thank you Yves, I could not have articulated your points anywhere near as well.

            However in addition to “some people at the top will be able to profit massively from a USSR-collapse style plutocratic land grab”, there is also urgency for those same people to push for a hard or no-deal Brexit in order to avoid new EU rules on tax evasion.

            1. Ptb

              Sure, continental banks now have their fanciest money parking spot escape EU rules, while simultaneously taking banking business away from London based competitors. Multinationals get maybe a bit more leverage over EU regulators. The French finally get to beat the English after like 500 years.

              It’s not nearly enough to explain the insanity of the whole thing though.

          2. Not the above Tom

            I have participated so far on NC using the name Tom but I didn’t write the above comment under that name. Idk how to manage such namespace conflict. Should I start over with a new name?

            1. ChrisPacific

              I would anyway though, because Tom is sufficiently common that you will probably end up with other doppelgangers in future. (I used to post as plain Chris a long time back).

        2. Clive

          Yves has given you a well-deserved spanking already, but just to add because Yves is possibly too modest to do so, Naked Capitalism covered in extraordinary levels of detail the Greek financial crisis and not only in terms of the amount of posts overall but in their timeliness — daily reporting, as often as not. It wasn’t merely the volume, either, the quality was far, far better than you can find anywhere else on the web as was the accuracy of the analysis. This is laudable enough, but when you consider the limited resources the editorial team has, to eclipse any other journal including mainstream financial media, is all the more remarkable.

          Suffice to say, the EU did not cover itself in glory over Greece and the euro — and Naked Capitalism did not spare the EU’s blushes.

          So to try to make out that this site is some how an unapologetic EU fanboi is totally counterfactual because you can read the proof in the archives for yourself. In regards to the EU, as with all other topics covered, Naked Capitalism tells it how it is and calls things as it sees them. Most other outlets are pretty much unreadable when it comes to their Brexit coverage — they are either unfailing whack jobs in their unquestioning Brexiteerism or else so enamoured of the EU they can’t get the context of Brexit correct at all because they’re too concerned with screetching. You rightly call out the Guardian’s comments in this respect. But this site suffers from neither failing.

          What I certainly hope to bring — and the other commentators who are also participating in this thread will, I’m sure sure this statement — is a quality of dialogue, an unflinching exploration of the issues and fact-based, reasoned debate. Again, the evidence for whether we achieve this is there, I assume, for anyone to see for themselves elsewhere on this page. The only flys in the ointment are where comments sneak in dissing the host or casting completely unsubstantiated criticism on the journalistic quality patently displayed.

            1. Ignacio

              +1. An additional difference with mainstream media is that if you have genuine doubts/questions these are politely answered here.

        3. Tony Wright

          This is for you Tom.
          To characterise all NC contributors as “You People” is both ridiculous and arrogant. Dismissive, chauvinistic pigeonholing of those with whom you disagree. It reminds me of HRC characterising Trump voters in 2016 as a “Basket of Deplorables”, a tin-eared comment which arguably galvanised many erstwhile “blue collar” Democrats to vote for Trump.
          And 17.4 million voters? I wonder how many of those would change their minds with benefit of hindsight, and how many of those who did not vote at the 2016 because they thought Remain was a lay down misere would favour Brexit now if given the chance to reconsider.
          And yes Yves, I accept that a second referendum is technically a Unicorn, but I think it would be more democratically accurate, given the information vacuum and unadulterated bullshit which accompanied the 2016 referendum.

      4. Ignacio

        Another example of industry depending much on EU workers in food processing anthough I don`t know how easily could those be replaced.

    3. Clive

      I voted for Brexit and it’s people like you who give it a bad name. It’s called democracy. Just because some people think something and even constitute a majority, it doesn’t mean everyone else has to just shuffle off and never say another word on the subject.

      Oh, and a more mismanaged, useless, deranged and damaging execution of any strategy, let alone an already risky one like leaving a deeply entwined mutual trading block of 50 years standing (near enough), would be hard to find.

      No-one has any business giving this lousy excuse for a government a free hall pass.

      1. Ignacio

        Not to mention that the question in the referendum was framed in an excessively simplistic way. This is not to say that the result of the referendum was not valid but surely this can leave a lot of people thinking “this is not what I intended to vote”.

        1. efschumacher

          So the next (“Unicorn”) Referendum has two questions:

          1. “Should the United Kingdom leave the EU or Remain?”

          2. “If the majority decision is to Leave, should we have an Agreement in place with the EU on future relations with each other, or should we leave whether or not there is an Agreement in place?”

          The astute reader will notice that 1. is the original question. 2. allows every voter to prefer Deal or no Deal, irrespective of their answer to the first question.

  3. fajensen

    If the remainers wanted to stop Brexit, they should have approved the Withdrawal Agreement. This would have left the Tories stuck with the options of “The Bad Deal” that *they* negotiated or rescinding A.50.

    Maybe they can still gang up a “unity government” and pull that off?

    The same mechanism applies to the Brexiteers in a way. The Withdrawal Agreement was a guaranteed “hard” exit form the EU.

    Down the line, the WA could be mutated into whatever endpoint the majority eventually desired. Except that all the involved parties wanted all of the cookies all for themselves and here we are.

    1. vlade

      The problem with WA is that about 600 (or more) of the UK’s MPs have no clue as to what the WA is actually about. I.e. that it’s not “THE DEAL”.

      Also, if DUP really understood what the WA was giving them, instead of being the roll-eye-loony-squad they are, they would have supported the WA all the way, because it would cement the NI status for ever, becaue it would make it way more prosperous than it could be in an united Ireland under just about any conditions – it would, economically, have the best of the both worlds (basically, for all terms and purposes, the EU offered to supply the NI with a regenerating cake, the holy grail of Brexiters). The inability of May to explain this to DUP is probably amongst her largest failings as the PM.

      1. fajensen

        Yes, That!

        I worked ten years in England back in the 1990’s and it was quite the norm that pretty much nobody read whatever documentation was prepared for decision support – and still everyone felt fully entitled to have many (and long-winded) opinions on the material, quite a few of these made up while in the meeting. This was on a fairly high-level too.

        After the meeting, “minions”, lawyers and accountants who actually had read the stuff, would have another improvised meeting where they would reach an agreement on what their leaders supposedly decided at the meeting they didn’t prepare for and write up the minutes.

        I think what finally derailed the UK is that most of the competent “Sir Huphreys” in the Civil Service left for Brussels or Early Retirement so now the politicians cannot ask “Sir Humprey” on “what do you make of this stuff?” and do whatever “Sir Humprey” suggests be done with it. Now they got “communication advisors”, spin-doctors basically, which are too far removed from the details to understand whatever the hell it is about, so they will take the safe option of reflecting a more polished version of the uninformed opinion of “their politician” back to him/her.

        1. fred

          I have a couple of friends in the Dep for Exiting and the Cabinet office and the number of what can only honestly be described as work experiance kids would shock people if they knew.

        2. Ignacio

          Isn’t it that MPs didn’t value the WA in its own terms but in the potential effect they perceived it could have in their voters? The would consider risky in electoral terms to say yes to the WA. In this sense, the negative propaganda of ultra brexiteers worked very well.

      2. Elspeth

        It says something about one’s political skills when you can’t give away ‘free beer’. Poor May

    2. David

      My understanding is that if Parliament had approved the WA then revocation of Art 50 would have been impossible thereafter, because the mechanism for leaving would have been agreed in a legally binding international treaty, and indeed would already be under way. There is, in fact, no specific provisions in Art 50 for revocation at all: it’s just assumed to be possible.

        1. David

          Agreed of course. My point is that Art 50 is, as we say on this site, having to do rather a lot of work, for a provision that was never really intended to be used under these circumstances and indeed was probably never expected to be needed.

      1. Elspeth

        The ECJ said the following: The court has now ruled that a withdrawing member state may revoke its intention to withdraw from the EU unilaterally. Its important to note that the court stated the decision to revoke Article 50 must be “unequivocal and unconditional”. And by constitutional methods of the member state,.

  4. FKorning

    This is the same tactic used by The Canadian Tories and Harper government to ramrod unsavoury legislation. It’s flippant use is highlighting faults in British-style “democracy”.

    1) FPTP is bad m’kay
    2) one needs a constitution
    3) repeal prorogation provisions
    4) referrenda require super-majority
    5) the executive has too much power
    6) the commons and lords are toothless

    A complete tragedy of the Commons. Can the speaker do nothing to thwart this? And on a parallel note, where are the Lords? The upper house is suposed to act as steward to the long term future. And don’t get me started on the monarch. This was a one in a lifetime or even in a few centuries to hold the nation together and stay relevant. She blew it. Absentee landlord. And what to say of the civil service, of courts, and of the press? Really thid is the story of Institutional failure at all levels. The end of patronising old-boys networks, and shadowy governance by shoulder taps.

    This is a slow-motion coup.

    Really there ought to be pitchforks and torches out on the streets. The burning of Boris and GressedHog effigies. General strikes, civil service walk-outs.

    The country is cleft in two and the factions getting more and more polarised. In the face of gridlock and division, the rational course of action is not to double down on a radical transgression. The rational way is the status quo, or gradual incremental changes with feedback, to see if support has shifted.

    1. vlade

      I agree that this show the British model of democracy for what it is – a paper mache model of a car, that looks great until you ask it to actually do what a car is expected to do, including some safety to is users.

      That said, I’d really like to see a good analysis of whether using external force as a threat (as Tories used the EU for decades) works better in FPTP or proportional systems.

      I can think of only one rabid anti-EU party in the EU that has repeated sucess at the polls, and that the Hungarian ruling party. But they have an advantage of almost total control of the media.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        I’ve only looked a bit under the hood of the UK as a democracy, but the very fact that Johnson could be installed by a bit over 100,000 Tory Party members speaks volumes.

        Lord only knows that US pretenses at democracy are shot full of hole thanks to Citizens United and to a lesser degree, jerrymandering, which didn’t just help the Republicans but perhaps more important, produced a much more factionalized House. It’s been airbrushed out of polite discussion that La Raza was a huuge promoter of jerrymandering because it negotiated majority-minority districts to get more Hispanic representatives. So this was a more two party affair than most admit.

        But back to the UK. A parliamentary system allows the ruling party to shove through its agenda. It’s a system capable of producing more radical changes in policy on a more regular basis than the US system. And it bestows more power in the PM than we give the President, as Johnson is now exploiting.

        1. David

          Yves, I loathe Johnson as much as anyone, but I have always thought this particular criticism is misplaced.
          All parliamentary systems work on the basis that the Head of State asks the party leader most likely to be able to form a government to do so. This may be the leader of the largest party, and often is, but in coalition systems or in crises it doesn’t have to be. If that person succeeds they become PM, but they are not technically ‘appointed ‘ PM.
          That’s how the UK system works. If Johnson loses a VOC he remains Tory leader but is no longer PM. The election recently was for Tory Party leader not PM, and the two, whilst currently coterminous, are not, to repeat, the same. In the past Tory leaders were just appointed (Macmillan) or elected by MPs, like Thatcher. Changes of leader while a government is in power are not unknown (Wilson and Callaghan, Blair and Brown).
          Brexit has been a useful education for pundits on how the British system actually works. They have discovered, for the first time, that Britain, like every other country in the world, does not have an elected PM. But it took the Wrong Person being elected as Tory leader for them to realize that. There are many valid criticisms of the British system but this, I suggest, is not one.
          Incidentally, I agree with your main argument : I think Johnson, deliberately or accidentally, is showing how little he cares, and has offended a lot of people without gaining any support. Maybe Eton and Oxford does that to people.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            I don’t think we are disagreeing. Parliamentary systems allow for radical changes in direction. The US system is more status-quo oriented. But if you accept that as a feature of parliamentary systems (it did make the NHS possible, for instance), you have to accept the downside.

            1. Math is Your Friend

              Depending on details, parliamentary systems can also allow for fairly rapid correction of massive mistakes. My own inclination is to ascribe a major part of the problem to the Fixed-term Parliaments Act.

              If I understand the older rules in play before this, the government falls on the defeat of major legislation, as this is considered an implicit vote of confidence. In that case, the Withdrawal Act would probably have been considered of sufficient importance and centrality to the government’s policies and plans that its failure would have brought down the government some time ago, and either triggered a change of government (not just leader) or an election.

              In fact, the prospect of the government falling on the defeat of that bill would have driven a much greater attempt to find a compromise that could be expected to pass. In that case, there would have been more outreach and consultation, and attempts to find that middle ground acceptable to a solid majority.

              Tinkering with a system of government for short term gain, or because it seems like a good idea without too much time wasted on reflection and analysis is all too often a bad plan.

              The various relatively recent changes in American rules for pushing appointments through are another example of the dangers of insufficiently considered changes.

          2. larry

            David, if you want to delve into what Eton and Oxford can do to the ‘boys in the man’ like Johnson, have a look at Nick Duffel’s Wounded Leaders: British Elitism and the Entitlement Illusion. Although, unfortunately, it came out before the referendum, it still resonates. He does mention Cameron and Johnson.

        2. phichibe


          You are absolutely spot-on wrt the ‘majority minority’ district scam and it’s not just La Raza. The Washington Post had an article as long ago as 1989 that talked about the nascent alliance of black politicians and the Republican National Committee to use the provisions of the Voting Rights Act to create more black majority districts at the expense of the total number of Democrats elected. This was particularly true in the South, where the result was to decimate the suburban and rural Democrats in the 1990s, and leave us with these polarized, districts. I’ve heard David Dayen the author of “Rat-Fucked” on NPR shows and he’s disingenuous to put it mildly on this subject.

          The Republican election strategist who died recently and whose computer files were used to frustrate the Trump administration’s Census plans was one of the key players in this effort. Meanwhile the Democrats lament the disparity between their share of the Congressional popular vote and the number of Representatives they send to Washington but do nothing to remedy this foolish collaboration of their minority factions (“people of color”) and the Republicans, because the PoC leaders would scream murder and threaten to bolt the party. At the risk of sounding too much like Bill Clinton in a different discussion (of working class white voters back in the 90s) where are they gonna go?

          Sigh. Politics may have brutal at other times in American history, but today’s is the worst I can recall, and I was born in 1960.


          1. Ptb

            Lack of Proportional representation forces this type of crappy compromise.

            e.g. without gerrymandering, a party with 45% votes might get 25% seats, and a minority that is not geographically concentrated might get no representation at all.

            But parties whose votes are *too* geographically concentrated get penalized compared to ones whose density is in the locally-60% sweet spot…

      2. Clive

        One of the ironies in all this for me is, the EU picked up this all-powerful-executive-branch ball and ran with it. Consider the EU Council, which drives the EU legislative agenda by giving instructions to and direction of the Commission. It is most certainly not derived from national legislative bodies, such as in some Grand Congress of national parliaments or assemblies. Or even some sort of super delegate based system of representatives from national law makers sent to Brussels in proportion to their national legislatures’ makeup.

        It (the Council) is, rather, the epitome of the Executive branch of government — and then with a cherry on the top being given far greater autonomy that most nations allow their Executive branch to have. As an indication of the length of the leash which the EU Council allows its Executive decision-making body to operate on, there are only closed sessions held in camera, no minutes are issued, no notes permitted to be taken and, to top it all off, even the CJEU has no jurisdiction over the Council, let alone the Member States’ supreme courts.

        So to see the UK Parliament’s Remain’ers getting their collective knickers in a twist because the EU Council — the EU Council ! — has the bad governance design it does and allows Johnson to, if told by the UK Parliament that he must rescind Article 50, to just go “meh”, or if instructed to ask for an extension to the Exit Date to say “well, I’ll try… but you know how awkward they all are in the EU27, so, phft, what can I do but maybe, perhaps, see what might, if I remember, they could go for, possibly…” all under the auspices of the Royal Prerogative (or Executive Action, as people like to call it now) and for the EU Council to not only tolerate this, but to actually say that this is precisely how the EU works and the UK Parliament can jolly well STFU if it thinks it’s going to start telling the EU Council what it will do or won’t do… well, I am genuinely sitting here trying to stifle a guffaw.

        Even worse, if that were possible, Remain MPs don’t seem to have the slightest self-awareness that this boosting of the power of the UK Executive is not the UK’s doing, but the EU’s. I’m reminded of Bette Davis’ lament, in All About Eve, where Bette states, jaundiced, that you don’t realise in your rush to climb the ladder towards building a supranational institution that all the sovereignty you drop on your way up to help you get to the top faster, you might find you need again on your way back down. Okay, Davis wasn’t actually talking about Brexit and the EU, it was a career on the stage she was referring to, but if Bette had been talking about such matters, that’s what she would have said.

        Much shorter: when handing off your nation’s sovereignty to that cute looking aggregator of national competencies which gives you the eye and a come-hither glance, be very careful you don’t end up giving more than you might think was wise the next morning. If the UK Parliament bemoans the latitude extended to Johnson in how he’ll manage Brexit via-a-vis the EU, it should remember who, exactly, gave him the power to do precisely what he is doing (or not doing) right now.

        1. David

          OK I seem to be starting today by defending things (I have a comment on Johnson’s election stuck in moderation) but I think you exaggerate a teeny bit.
          The Council is the collective expression of the Executives of its member states. The Parliament is the collective expression of the legislatures of member states. The problem is not that the Council is too strong but that Parliament is too weak. The Council follows the standard rules for meetings of Heads of State and Government, whether standing (like the North Atlantic Council) or occasional (like the G7). As in national systems, discussions are confidential, but, unlike the British system, Conclusions are published, the PM will usually give a report to Parliament, and of course furious notes are taken and distributed by the Secretariat and national delegations.
          Asking for an extension is, after all, a policy issue, so an Executive privilege, and who are you going to ask if not representatives of the other Executives ?

          1. Clive

            I do agree that the EU Council isn’t much different, in concept, to things like NATO. NATO is, though, significantly constrained in the terms it can operate under and can’t easily expand or vary those terms. The EU Council can drive policy anywhere it sees fit to drive it.

            And yes, if the Council couldn’t operate under Executive Action, how else would something like a request to amend the Brexit Exit Date be requested, discussed and approved or denied? The right of executive action permits effective and timely decision making, that is why, I suppose, it’s tolerated in the first place.

            Where I would argue isn’t so much with the Council in respect of this matter, but in the wailing and knashing of teeth from some U.K. parliamentarians. Don’t, I would say to them, if they were here (and they’d listen) hand power to governance structures then complain later about how those structures use the power you’ve just handed to them.

        2. PlutoniumKun

          I honestly don’t see any connection whatever between the EU set up and what Johnson is doing.

          The EU Council is based on the elected Heads of State of each country. It is explicitly set up to recognise the sovereignty of each individual nation state. It is up to each country to decide who represents it. Any other structure involving direct elections or parliamentary delegates would mean that nation states would be subsumed by the EU, as with the constituent States of the US. It is precisely this structure which guarantees individual national sovereignty, and this in particular is what was demanded by the smaller nations who get proportionately a greater say in decision making. Any structure dependent on proportionately selected or elected delegates would both downgrade the status of nation states and favour the most populist countries in the EU (i.e. Germany).

          1. Clive

            As I mentioned to David above, it isn’t so much the EU Council I’m complaining about, it is what it is and it never made any big disguising of how it was set up. If people like it like that, then all well and good.

            What I really do get annoyed about is U.K. MPs chiding Johnson for working the system precisely as it is designed to be worked. If MPs want to clip the wings of the executive in so far as what it can and can’t do in terms of the EU, what additional controls they want to have over how a Member State manages its relationship with the EU and how national legislative bodies should or shouldn’t pool their sovereignty in the EU, then it should have done something about it before.

            1. Jabbawocky

              Proroguing parliament is supposed to be used only to move from one session to another. Johnson is using it for a different purpose, specifically to prevent elected members passing legislation to prevent the government from taking a disastrous course of action. Forgive me but I can’t see how this is ‘precisely as it’s designed to be worked’.

              The shadow attorney general said in a guardian piece last night that she has sought the re-emptive legal advice, and hinted that she believed it could be prevented in the courts. Time will tell if she’s right.

              1. Clive

                “Prorogue” is just a $10 word for saying “the government has nothing useful for Parliament to be getting on with”. In order for me to properly answer your question, or perhaps I need to address your point, whichever is the case, you’ll need to come clean and tell me what, exactly, you’re hoping that, in the absence of proroguation, you’d want Parliament to do.

                If you want to Leave but to avoid a No Deal Brexit, then as even Theresa May knew — and she wasn’t the sharpest knife in the draw — that there is no such thing as “no No Deal”. Parliament would need, as, goodness knows, I’ve been banging on about they should do this for a year, to vote for the Withdrawal Agreement in the Meaningful Vote. Parliament has had countless opportunities to do this and could certainly do it in the next week of sitting days. But neither Labour nor the Liberal Democrats nor the SNP are prepared to do this. No matter how many days there are in session until the end of October. So I don’t get what you think can be achieved or why you think you’re being denied anything.

                If you want to Remain, Parliament cannot do anything about that because it is not only within the Royal Prerogative alone for the Prime Minister to hand the notification of the rescinding of Article 50 to the EU Council but it is in the EU’s Treaty that they can only accept rescinding from this party. It is only by changing the U.K. Prime Minister — a Confidence Vote in Parliament to dismiss the current government and install a new government with a new Prime Minister who will rescind Article 50, in other words — that this can happen. Again, Parliament has had three years to do just that and has failed to do it. On Monday, the group of parliamentarians who met to discuss tactics again demurred from a Confidence Vote. So again, we must conclude, they don’t have the numbers needed and won’t get them just because of a few extra days of Parliament sitting time.

                Remain MPs decided that all they can do is play procedural games to try to turn the norms of government on their head and pretend that Parliament can be both the legislative branch and the executive branch of government at the same time and somehow “order” the government to do that which it does not wish to do, doesn’t have to do unless it wants to and, as the rest of the EU27 must also agree (to an extension of the Brexit Exit Date) no U.K. or Parliament can guarantee will happen anyway. If it is this last avenue you think you’ve been somehow unfairly cheated out of, I’ve zero sympathy at all because if you’re presumably happy to have Parliament play it’s own game of procedural shilly-shallying, the you can hardly deny the government the right to play that game, too. It’s not Johnson’s fault that Remain, as a force in the U.K. Parliament, is so useless. To blame Leave, for, well, Leaving shows the dangers of reading too much of the Guardian.

        3. FKorning

          True, but the EU is a supra-national entity, much wider and looser than a federation. Each country within the union has its own form of governance. In a way the EU council is more like an upper house or a senate, as it is not a single party, and as the directives do not really originate from executive decree. Typically a few powerful member states lobby for a direction and attempt to achieve concensus. Unanimty requires sophisticated negotation and compromise which is why it is in-camera. But the agenda isn’t pushed by the council per se, rather they issue from research from the various civil servants, bureaucrats, technocrats, or whatever you want to call them under mandate. Arguably that’s even less representative, except that most EU citizens do not doubt decisions are made on their behalf for their benefit and the common good. This sort of benevolent bureaucracy was the norm in the UK for ages, but now that trust and compact has been broken. Civil servants are mute and no-one seems to put the greater good at the heart of the matter. It would as if a single faction in the council would dictate the agenda. Nobody gave Johnson the power. He inherited it from an ousted PM. There should be a safeguard that a legless PM without an electoral mandate ought not be able to make constitutional-level changes – only govern operations.

          1. Clive

            I agree with the main thrust of your point — people are perfectly happy to live in a situation whereby they’re “all watched over by a Commission of loving grace”. Providing the Commission is, or is at least seen to be, loving and graceful.

            It all fell apart for the U.K. when that, for a sufficiently large body of public opinion, it stopped believing that was true. The real bitterness is that this problem was — with the application a few, small, largely cosmetic and unmaterial changes — entirely salvageable. But for reasons too convoluted to go into here, both the EU and the U.K. stopped trying.

        4. vlade

          To add to the comments above:
          The EP vs the council. there was a power fight around this where the Council was resisting what it saw as a power grab by the Parliament (I’m not going to get into whether it was, wasn’t etc). But this is normal situation between legislative and executive – one or the other tries to “powergrab”, and they fight it out, eventually coming up with something. the EP is a very young institution, mere decades. Brexit is about the largest crisis it had to ever deal with (Greece wasn’t about EP, it was about Eurozone + Comission to an extent).

          In the UK, theoretically the Parliament is sovreign, but it reality it’s a governent rubber stamp machine. And it predates the EU by a loong long time.

          For example, up till early 20th century, to serve in a government the MP had to resign its seat. Which is a proper separation of powers. But it meant the government had fewer guaranteed votes in the Parliament, which is of course bad. So it got changed. Similarly, a lot of the SO that say the government gets to dictate teh schedule etc. are relatively new, late 19th, early 20th century.

          Basically, the executive power grab in the UK was won a long long time ago, no matter what the “parliamentary sovreignty” says.

          The funny thing on this is that the rabid leavers were all shouting “sovreign parliament” before the Brexit, but when the parliament did try to excercise some powers, they all suddenly got branded traitors. Which tells you that something like true “will of the people”, “sovreignty” etc. are only a think veneer that the Brexiters will use when it suits them, but in reality would prefer a dictatorship of their own choosing, and will fight anything that may put it in jeopardy. Not unlike Koch’s in the US.

          1. FKorning

            on “traitors”. imho, that’s not the public’s sentence. that’s the tabloid owners’ agenda.

        5. Olivier

          “this boosting of the power of the UK Executive is not the UK’s doing, but the EU’s” Not quite following here… Exactly how did the EU effect this constitutional change in the UK: what was the mechanism and when did it take place?

      3. TedHunter

        @ Vlade: I might have misunderstood your comment, but the Hungarian ruling party (Fidesz) did not control the media when they first won the national election with a large margin in 2010. They profitted form the incumbent ruling party’s (MSZP) mistakes, 8 years in power leading to voter fatigue, plus the recording of the MSZP prime minister asking cabinet to “stop lying”, which destabilized the political scene till shortly before the 2010 election. The result was 52% of the vote for Fidesz (+11%) and 20% for MSZP (-24%). Fidesz received 263/386 seats in Parliament (68%). This position of strength was quickly abused, one of the very first moves being also the control of the media.

        1. vlade

          IIRC, in its initial years Fidesz wasn’t as rabidly anti-EU as it’s now. It is I believe similar with th Polish Law and Order, which is the longer they stay in power the more anti-EU they are..

    2. PlutoniumKun

      For me, the built in flaw of the UK system was always the combination of absolute Parliamentary sovereignty (which in reality meant Executive sovereignty) with an FTPT system which favours parties with geographical concentrations. Under FPTP a party with concentration of support will always do better than a party with geographically spread support. Almost all alternative electoral systems create a centre of gravities more towards the middle and consensual politics. The system, in other words, lacks a moderating influence.

      The UK for me ‘got lucky’ for a century or more by not having parties which pushed things too far, aided in general by being a pretty sensible and prosperous society with strong institutional structures. Thatcher nearly did irreparable damage, but was rescued by favourable economic cycles. The UK now has what John Crace calls a delusional narcissist in charge, surrounding by what would once have been called a bunch of crackpots, and it has no mechanism for stopping him doing whatever he wants.

      1. FKorning

        That moderating influence used to be be the Peers, who were stewards of the long-term and tended towards tradition and status quo ( – don’t get me started on the British system of tradition, property rights, and precedence – why wouln’t a robber baron want to preserve the distribution of the spoils of plunders past?).

        1. dearieme

          I do hope you’re not American because otherwise someone might point out that all landholdings in the US are a result not just of plunders past but of genocide. They might then bluntly suggest that you hand over any property you own to the nearest convenient Injun.

          To return to the prorogation: there is normally a prorogation every year. That’s how one parliamentary session is ended and the next started. It is overdue; this is already the longest parliamentary session since the Civil War. The way Boris has chosen to do it reduces the debating time in the Commons by four days. Days, not weeks or months. All the hysterical shrieking about “unprecedented” is simply false. Hell, John Major had a longer prorogation in the 90s. That’s 1990s not 1690s.

          So the complaint boils down to just one charge, namely that Boris has done it to secure a political advantage. To which the obvious response is “hard cheese!” The Commons has made a complete cock-up of the whole Brexit issue for three years now and the Remainer MPs in the Labour and Conservative parties have shown themselves to be liars and incompetents. The Gordian Knot needs a swish at it: maybe this will prove to be an effective swish. We shall see.

          1. FKorning

            No, I’m based in the UK, but I fail to see how one evil invalidates another.

            The very fact that prorogation is a declarative act means it is open to political machinations, and these are vile in any form. Since you are fond of Americans,
            the phillibuster is another, though nothing new in politics (“How long oh Catiine?”) .

            Other parliaments manage to shut down and restart sessions without having this
            partiality in the timing and duration. At the very least it ought to be at the speaker’s
            discretion, and not the executive.

            Do you really fail to see any cynical conflict of interest in the timing of this declaration,
            which other MPs, Bercow, the Press, and Pundits everywhere pretty much agree
            makes a mockery of democracy, or are you just playing devil’s advocate?

            1. dearieme

              At the very least it ought to be at the speaker’s discretion, and not the executive’s

              That could only work if we had a Speaker less morally corrupt than the poison dwarf.

              Anyway the hysteria misses the two key points. (i) There’s nothing unprecedented about it. (ii) It’s normal, as in commonplace, for politicians to try to use the rules to their own advantage.

      2. c_heale

        I think the crux of the matter might be that the UK no longer seems to be prosperous or powerful, and Brexit is a reaction to this…

      3. David

        I hate to say this, as a lifelong Socialist from a very modest background, but the British system worked in the past because it was pretty homogeneous. I don’t mean literally everyone came from the same background (they let me in, after all) but rather there was a cultural homogeneity in the civil service, in politics, and even partly in the media, which had its origin in a certain upper middle class sense of duty, honesty and competence, inherited from the serious professional classes of the nineteenth century. (It had its analogue in the ethos of the honest tradesman, which we’ve lost as well). This culture was never universal , of course, but it was very powerful, and it coped quite well with the social changes after 1945, as more women and people from much more diverse backgrounds entered the public sphere.
        It changed not because the origin of its members was different (May and Johnson both came from Oxford, as did Blair, and for that matter Thatcher) but because their ethos came from elsewhere. It came from the City, from Management Consultancy, and from that part of the British Establishment which was always more interested in Making Money than in Doing Things. It’s almost as though the disreputable younger sons of the Establishment, sent off to make money in Hong Kong after some scandal, had all returned to run the country. You can mock the old High Seriousness of the public sphere if you like (too white! too male!) but the fact is that it wouldn’t have got us in the mess we are in today, because it had both the scruples and the competence to avoid it. Now, it’s open season. I remember thinking how bitterly ironic it was that the government which got the country into the worst peacetime crisis in modern history was also the most inclusive, and led by a woman at that.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          Although as an outside I don’t have the level of insights you have, I quite agree with this. Much as I loath establishments made up of conservative upper class while males etc., etc., there is often a very good reason they have been so stable and successful, and one of those is a collective sense of duty and integrity which at least partly mitigates some of the bad stuff.

          It seems that one crucial mistake the English establishment has made is to believe its own propaganda about the joys of free markets and meritocracy (which of course historically it never believed in for a moment), and suddenly a whole flock of chlorinated chickens came home to roost.

        2. FKorning

          To blame it on the Oxbridge set is simplistic. Lots of people with PPEs are progressive and lots of them are not Tories. Some are Tories and remainers. By the time one gets there, the mindset has already been molded-in by public schooling and venal dynastic expectations. Thatcher’s boys were mostly grammar-school formed and she loathed the posh boys. Same with the Blairites. Sidelined for a bit, those frustrated posh boys have learnt their lesson well and are doing their damndest not to let arrivistes get the reins of power again.

          But you are right in mourning the passing of a sense of duty, compasssion and rectitude. This has been sacrificed to the altar of Mammon, and there is only one high priest: the party of cruelty and feudalism. There have been copycats (“new labour”), but nothing quite as deliberate in its assault on the social contract as the Tories and their kleptocratic ilk.

          1. Anonymous 2

            I think the passing of the generation that had been through WW2 is also important. IMO the ‘officer class’ of that generation, whatever their shortcomings, had a sense of duty which required them to look after ‘the men’. Not very well perhaps, but at least there was some sense of obligation.

            Going into battle, together, also, I imagine, creates a bond of recognised common humanity with former comrades which acts against treating people purely as commodities? I ask this, never having been in the military myself.

  5. PlutoniumKun

    As much as it appears that Johnson has played a trump card and checkmated his opponents, my take is the reverse: that he actually opened up a new path for at least stalling Brexit and the widespread reaction in the UK, that Johnson’s gambit is an affront to democracy, has given the opposition a new lease on life.

    Thinking things over last night, these were my thoughts too. Johnson has overplayed his hand. For all the reasons we’ve discussed ad nauseum, Brexiteers hold all the cards – all they need to do is play guerrilla warfare in Parliament and a no-deal would happen on 31 October, there was no need for this.

    The question is why he’s done it – perhaps it is part of a grand strategy to create chaos and to benefit… somehow – whether that ‘success’ would be pulling a fast one on the Ultras and doing a deal of some sort with the EU, or whether its to get a parliamentary majority, only Johnson and his people know (I suspect the latter, I think a Nov 7 election is ideal for him). But more likely I think its a sign of his personality (a delusional narcissist as John Crace describes him today), or whether an inexperienced group of people around him have simply panicked and pushed the nuclear button too early. But whatever it is, it has opened up a chance for the opposition to finally get their act together.

    The big question for me is what Corbyn wants. My feeling is that he and his inner circle are quite happy to see a no-deal, content that they’ll be able to pick up the electoral pieces in 6 or 12 months time. His only concern is to hold his party together. But if he is serious about the national interest, to me his only option is to use this time to press the opposition into supporting him in forming a new government with the intention of withdrawing A.50 in favour of a comprehensive set of new referendums (I’m sure more than one would be needed). But it would be an uphill task I think to persuade enough Tories to commit electoral (and probably social) suicide to help him to this.

    1. Clive

      I’m seriously beginning to consider the possibility that an entire branch of politics is now pretty much solely based on stoking up internet outrage with a specific intention of using the time, media bandwidth and cognitive functioning which is then consumed in responding to it.

      If so it is deeply cynical and not just because it’s rather underhand, but because it is at least somewhat effective. Considering how much noise the proroguing has generated — with all the main Remain actors feeling, apparently, compelled to respond with acknowledging the perhaps understandable but ultimately not really warranted to the degree it’s being expressed ruminations — if that was Johnson’s aim, it’s certainly achieved that.

      The internet as one, giant, very loud dog whistle? And we’re all the dogs, wittingly or unwittingly.

      1. David

        I think this goes back to the idea, first seen under Blair, that if you control the media optics you control the process. It’s a deeply cynical approach, which relegates actual reality to the status of a boring afterthought. There’s no problem so difficult, in other words, that you can’t spin your way out of it. So Johnson probably thinks he’s winning because he’s dominating the media.
        Reality may have other views, and remember reality has been defined as that which does not care whether you believe it or not. Reality is about to bite Johnson in the glutei maximi, as he would no doubt say, and reveal him to be a shallow, narcissistic buffoon, completely incapable of doing his job.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          This way of thinking was pronounced under Obama and has only become more embedded in the Democratic party, that every problem can be solved with better propaganda.

    2. FKorning

      I seriously doubt that. He is a loyal member of his class and of robber baon intesrest. Everything he has done at FO is to increase tension and strife. Those behind this dream of a british bulldog that punches above its weight. Make no mistake, they no doubt already hold most of the equity in defense stock, energy, transport, health, eduction, food and provisioning, and plan to gouge us all at the spigot and trough of the modern-day enclosure that is Brexit. Hope you enjoyed your little holiday, plebe. The trireme is this way, if you don’t mind stepping below decks.. that’s a good lad…

      1. Yves Smith Post author


        Johnson has a net worth of only $2 million, and I would bet at least 1/3 of that is tied up in equity in his personal real estate. If he thinks UK stocks are going up as a result of Brexit, he is smoking something strong. A guy with that little in net worth isn’t positioned to benefit directly in any significant way. He’ll get his juice by collecting fees for advice of various sorts and sitting on boards.

        And I agree with PlutoniumKun and neglected to include it in the post, that there’s a good possibility that a significant motivator is Johnson acting out his personal mythology.

        1. FKorning

          Without even putting in question the completeness and certainty of that figure, it’s not really about personal windfalls but about class dominance. The UK has always been in a class war, the underclasses just don’t know it is being perpetually waged againts them. This is really a structural shift from productive (in the sense of producing) economy, back to an extractive rent-seeking one. With the de-industrialisation of the thatcher era, and now the scientific research probably going to take a hit due to brain drain, the UK will revert to its norm of rentiers and their enablers: middlemen, merchantmen, brokers, and agents. That and race-to-the bottom tax evasion. Barons and buccaneers the lot of them.

        2. Colonel Smithers

          Thank you, Yves.

          You are right to highlight the personal mythology. As a classicist, one wonders if Johnson feels he’s emulating ancient Greece and Rome.

          With regard to money and plunder, as per F Korning, one should consider Rees-Mogg. His investment firm and landed estate, largely his heiress wife’s and amounting to over 100,000 acres in Nottinghamshire, Kent and Somerset and possibly Scotland, are well placed to benefit from a crash and post-hard Brexit agreement of sorts.

            1. Colonel Smithers

              Thank you, dear.

              The land is largely hers, the former Fitzwilliam estate. Her mother split the estate with a cousin when the earldom became extinct.

              Before you take issue, not for the first time, with my wording, perhaps you should acquaint yourself with the Leveson Gower family and Sutherland estates.

      2. PlutoniumKun

        I think what is striking about Johnson is that he has got to where he is despite being (apparently) loathed personally by many members of his class, or more specifically, those who know him. I hate to create simplistic Trumpian parallels, but I think his is similar in that his ‘class’ see him as a useful idiot, useful for getting things done. The problem is that sometimes the useful idiots turn out to be able to turn the tables on their supposed controllers. They may see him as too greedy to be able to perform the slight of hand needed to betray his class.

        As for Boris’s finances – its well known that he likes a lavish lifestyle, one beyond his personal means. He certainly can’t afford to live on a PM’s pitiful salary. So he no doubt has a personal financial exit strategy, and it may be that delivering disaster capitalism on a plate for some of his social circle may well be part of that.

        1. FKorning

          The thing about that class is they all loathe one another. They are taught to compete as rivals for the pie and the great game. But they close ranks to pick on their usual prey – the rest of us.

          Nobody in that class lives above their means.
          They are professional plunderers of the public purse.
          Rather they are quite adept at living above *our* means.

        2. John A

          Re Yves and PK on Johnson’s finances. Agree with both your points and would add that Boris is in the process of divorcing his longsuffering wife, who will no doubt claim, with plenty of children in the household, a big chunk of his assets.
          Like we are seeing currently with Obama and the Clintons, financial rewards come post-office for politicians in Britain. Blair, Brown, Darling, Cameron, Osborne et all, all millionaires by now.

        3. Synoia

          No one sees Boris as an Idiot. Useful or otherwise.

          I refer you to Shakespeare: Caesar’s remarks about Cassius, except for the mean and hungry look, and the follow up by Mark Anthony.

    3. Jabbawocky

      I suspect the hand of Dominic Cummings. I too was wondering why the timing. Why not surprise MPs with the suspension of parliament closer to the time.

      The only sense to me is if they were spooked by the announcement the previous day that Corbyn had agreed a legislative approach to blocking a no deal Brexit. I think they are still trying to bait Corbyn into an early no confidence vote, so that they can time the election on their preferred date just after Brexit. Legislation takes days, whereas a no confidence vote takes hours. And legislation is possible, via a humble address as before.

  6. Ataraxite

    It is good to see reasonable commentary here, pointing out that the practical effects of the prorogation are not that serious. But, as a symbolic step, it is still quite something to simply shut down your parliament at such an important time. Here in Germany, for example, it would be completely unthinkable (and I’m not sure even if constitutionally possible) to suspend the Bundestag because it had become inconvenient.

    (That said, I did have a wry grin hearing from the various politicians still rousing themselves to action after spending the month of August on their summer holidays suddenly notice that there’s a national crisis that demands their attention and how dare the parliament not sit like it hadn’t been sitting.)

    What confounds me, though, is what does Boris hope to achieve here?

    If he truly wanted to ram through No Deal, he would have prorogued parliament from now until after October 31. Does he see that as a step too far? Does he believe that length of prorogation could be successfully challenged in court, where this smaller one won’t?

    If he wanted a VONC, he’s eliminated that as a possibility since no-one is quite sure how the 14-day period under the FTPA would operate with a prorogued parliament. Is he trying to push the “remainer” parliament toward legislative measures against No Deal, with a view to a “people vs parliament” election, or perhaps even because he realises he could probably just ignore legislation? Is he planning to bring back May’s deal (perhaps with some EU-agreed cosmetic changes) after the October 17 EU Council, and say to parliament: “It’s this or the abyss”?

    It’s not the prorogued parliament that underlines Britain’s decay as a democracy. It’s the fact that we here, journalists, and every citizen of the United Kingdom (well, those interested anyway) has to speculate and theorise what the government is actually doing, and why they are doing it.

    1. ahimsa

      If he truly wanted to ram through No Deal, he would have prorogued parliament from now until after October 31.

      Very good point.. What is he playing at???

      1. DaveH

        Presumably this way means he just about claim that there is nothing unusual about it. Obviously it isn’t, but he is able to maintain a shimmer of credibility in saying so.

        While still very deliberately closing the door on options for Parliament to act. Or so it seems right now.

      2. Jabbawocky

        Johnson may actually believe that the EU will cave in at the last minute, once they know parliament can’t block a no deal Brexit?

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Help me. Johnson may believe that but the EU is way better informed than that. They have been treating a no deal as the most likely option for a while.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      Even though Johnson’s gambit is being depicted as “shutting down Parliament,” it is in fact procedurally entirely kosher. And he actually does have a point, he’s entitled to his own Queen’s Speech and opportunity to blather on about his priorities as PM.

      1. vlade

        It’s not like the executives around the world didn’t use these items before – in ACW, Lincoln managed to avoid having the House/Courts interfere by a lots of tricks too.

        And TBH, I find all that mess around this more than a bit overdone. The Parliament had three years to gets itself in order – it’s not like a lot of these issues weren’t known before hand. Even in the last four months, it was clear May is out, Johnson will go in, 31 Oct was the deadline, but the Parliament still went on its summer recess.

        Lots of flapping, but no real action. Johnson, for better or worse, managed to get his and Tories acts together and do something. The UK may well regret it, but let’s not forget the complicity of the “opposition” in all this.

      2. larry

        Yes, he does, but he didn’t have to do it in the way that he has. I see the fingers of Dominic Cummmings all over this, among other things. Cummings’ blog is more than a lttle revealing of ideas that may well be motivating him — it shows him to be widely read, but how well assimilated his reading is is a good question. For instance, he likes Schumpeter’s notion of creative destruction, but from what I have noticed about Cummings’ maneuverings, his applications do not really conform to Schumpeter’s conception. It is not necessary for Cummings to have gotten this idea from Schumpeter directly. Possibly more likely second-hand?

        It could be argued that Cummings is manipulating Johnson, fitting well with Duffell’s view that Eton-Oxford grads have inherently fragile egos, among other undesirable psychological traits. If there is any manipulation taking place, it seems to fit with Johnson’s own personal proclivities, so, a nice synergy there, at least for the moment.

        1. inode_buddha

          I’ve known a few of those “creative destruction” types personally. Its amazing how fast they shut up about it when said “creative destruction” starts happening to them and their interests. Its one of those things that’s always better when it happens to someone else.

    3. Ignacio

      “What confounds me, though, is what does Boris hope to achieve here?”

      My to cents: I think Boris’ biggest fears are Art.50 revocation or extension, but more particularly revocation. Whether this was clever or a mistake will soon be seen.

      1. Synoia

        Boris wants at least 5 years as PM, possibly 10. Corbin will be dust be then.

        Step 1 Crash out
        Step 2 Get rid of Ferage (Single issues parties do not last)
        Step 3 Hold election, get majority
        Step 4 Crash NHS, Crashing the NHS would be a major win for the Right, and destroys the push for single payer health systems around the world.
        Step 5 Blame the French (or the EU) for everything.

        To understand Boris, first consider what’s good for Boris. There is no second.

  7. freddo

    Yup, Boris, bless him, has galvanised the opposition. What a dope. He thinks he’s Churchill (wrote a book about him, ya know) but is really just a very naughty boy.
    The man to watch his Bercow. He’s going to move heaven and earth to make sure that Parliament has a say. If the speaker continues to sit in his chair and convene parliament, is it a lawful parliament?

    1. Redlife2017

      The Queen says no, it will not be a lawful Parliament. So unless we decide to get rid of the monarchy, then, no, it won’t work.

      1. vlade

        What if the “unlawful” parliament stripped the monarch of the powers to prorogue/session ? TBH, because it’s not really well defined anywhere, it would be an interesting court case. And, ultimately, courts cannot tie the Parliament anyways in terms of what laws it can/can’t pass.

        In a normal system, you have checks and balances between the parts of the system. In the UK, there are no formal checks, and formally, the Parliament can legislate anything it wants.

        I’ll remind that last time this happend in the UK, it ended up with a dead monarch, civil war, and the Parliament getting more powers than ever before.

        1. Redlife2017

          Yes, your last sentence sort of says it all. I guess my flippant comment was about the fact that UNLESS we are looking to have something along the lines of the civil war era politics, then it’s just a flap without any heft.

          But I suppose I need to embrace the aspect of this whole situation where things are about to be torn down and something new born. Not better. Different. Can we do this with minimal (preferably zero) violence? Well…better than the US could anyway. Will we do the normal (ex Civil War method of change) British change thing of: “Let’s keep the chassis the same/similar, but completely change everything else. That way it is the same thing, but completely different.” I have no frickin’ clue where this is going.

          In all of this nuttiness, I still have to write some presentations and go to meetings. There are only two people I discuss Brexit with at work, the others we just say nothing. I’m beginning to understand what I’ve read in the past about people just going about their business whilst everything breaks apart around them.

          1. vlade

            re your last sentence ( :) ), the need to maintain some semblance of normality is extremely strong for most people.

            Unfortunately, over the history this need has been misused all over the place.

      2. Summer

        What about Canada, Australia, New Zealand..the other places that recognize the technically not a monarchy but a monarchy sometimes for “procedure”?
        Are they part of the “we” with the entire monarchy thing and have some say?

        EU trade deals aside, in push come to shove times, I’m curious to see how far the monarchy thing could be taken.

        1. NotTimothyGeithner

          Theoretically, the monarchy exists like all traditions to provide stability and avoid violence or at least provide the person who is responsible for good or ill if violence happens. I doubt Liz II is going to ride into battle to press ancient claims on Calais anytime soon or is worried she might have to yell at Viking invaders.

          My guess is the Vogons will adhere to BJ and tradition until shortages hit. To me, this is where the rubber hits the road. The Vogons, army, and police are the real power of the state. Where they go matters. Elections are useful for reminding the Vogons the people know where they live and how they feel, but without an election, there is a problem. The EU’s deadlines are approaching.

          I don’t follow the monarchy, but Liz doesn’t strike me as doing much other than enjoying the celebrity. Is she bright enough to accept the “advice” of an MP with an anti-Johnson majority? don’t know. Could Harry call a family meeting pull a red wedding and then accept the “advice” of the Speaker as the regent because there is an emergency? Sure, why not? If killing a monarch is popular, they don’t put you in jail.

          The real problem is there time and an existing process for what would be a parallel election to a new anti-Johnson parliament without state support in time for the October 31st deadline. This is the best way to claim leadership and demand Vogon obedience if the Queen decides to follow tradition.

    2. David

      Don’t underestimate the power of optics here. If Parliament does its own thing, and makes it clear that it’s against a crash-out, then the precise legal position is secondary. There’s no way that Johnson could possibly represent the UK to the EU when publicly opposed by a majority of the very Parliament he’s seen as having tried to close down. I can’t remember anything in modern European history that might compare – not even the Fourth Republic in France. Yes, but it’s Johnson, you may well reply, but surely there has to be a point at which the men in white coats push the doors open…

      1. PlutoniumKun

        One precedent would be the First Dail, where Irish republicans simply created a Parliament and insisted that Irish people follow its rules, not Parliament in London, and most did. This idea did more than anything to undermine British rule in Ireland, and it was copied as a tactic by revolutionaries like Mao and others. Sinn Fein and the IRA still claim their legitimacy from this. One wonders therefore if an unauthorised Parliament issues law, whether Scotland will do likewise. Why not revoke the Act of Union unilaterally and A.50 for Scotland? Far too radical I’m sure for the SNP, but who knows what can happen over the next few months.

      2. Yves Smith Post author

        Ahem, the EU is civil law, not common law.

        Parliament approved the Withdrawal Agreement and has not asked the PM to revoke it nor is it likely to.

        Parliament is capable of removing the PM and installing a new one if it thinks Johnson is out of hand but everything says it doesn’t have the numbers.

        The EU has said it will give extensions for something that might lead to different outcomes like a general election or a new referendum, as in they recognize the bar for getting past where the UK is now, on a default path to a Brexit, is high. I do think the EU will give an extension even if the UK is clearly going to faff around more, but only a short one, my guess is to year end.

        So I see the EU having already signaled that it sees the UK as having what it needs to do constitutionally to invoke Brexit, and capable of doing what it needs to reverse that or at least open up other options. If it doesn’t do that, tant pis.

        1. David

          Indeed, but the point I was making was political, not legal. I don’t think there has ever been a case of an EU head of government in open conflict with his own parliament, and without an obvious overall majority to boot. Legally, you are right that Johnson would have to be received and treated as the legitimate head of government, and this would be the case whatever system of law you use. But just think how it would look, and how humiliated even Johnson would feel. No matter how big the state, it’s basically impossible for a PM to be taken seriously in such circumstances, whatever legal politenesses are observed.

          1. Yves Smith Post author

            But he is not in conflict with the Parliament. If he were, they’d remove him.

            He is faced with an unhappy, divided, and confused Parliament that can’t get out of its own underwear. If they were willing to get behind any direction other than Johnson’s, that might rise to open conflict, but they are unhappy that he is taking advantage of their disorder. Not really the same. Shockingly bad optics but short of open warfare.

            1. David

              If it wasn’t clear, I was s referring to the hypothetical standoff that has been discussed a lot, rather than the current situation, bad as it is.

      3. Tony Wright

        Judging by some of the election results worldwide over the last few years it appears to me that the men in white coats are off on a very long smoko*.
        Either that or their roles have been sequentially outsourced well beyond any semblance of accountability.
        *Mid 20th century Australian slang for a tea break/elevensies or similar.

  8. freddo

    If there is to be an election on 7 November, you can be very sure that the EU will make a hard brexit VERY hard. They will have no incentive to help Boris. They would only loosen the screws after 7 November.

  9. Redlife2017

    At risk of me tooting my own horn (oh, I am), uh my comment from late July notes the early November thesis I was developing: Not sure if that was the first one, though.

    I’m actually shocked it’s come to it as well. But there are too many pieces in motion to figure out if we will have an election. If it’s not 7 or 14 November, then he ain’t gonna wanna do it. If he gets it, his majority will be sound for a good 5 years. But if he doesn’t then I’m beginning to think that puts us out into possibly spring. Which is nuts. And it also contains the possibility of Labour controlling the budget (like they partially did last year, but more full blooded).

  10. Yves Smith Post author

    Falling off a cliff and landing splat is plenty hard. Pray tell how to make that harder?

    The EU is big on being procedural and they’ve already set out where they are giving short-term waivers for their own benefit. There isn’t anything the EU could do to be punitive that would make a difference by November 7, and they would also recognize that any such attempt would play into Johnson’s hands. And they also don’t want to make life more miserable for Ireland.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      I assume he means that they won’t allow any soft postponement of the pain of going off a cliff. I can see many things they could do in the run-up to an election that would harm him significantly without harming Ireland.

      For one thing, they could openly publish a schedule of all UK companies that would not longer be able to trade in the EU past a certain date unless they transferred in excess of 50% of their staff to EU countries. This could in particular apply to a wide range of services, from construction to legal to financial sectors.

    2. DaveH

      I’d argue that there are still degrees to which the new rules will or will not be followed.

      As an example, the French position is that any lorry that doesn’t have its paperwork checked and in order at Dover won’t be allowed on the boat to Calais. However, on arrival in Calais will every lorry be stopped on arrival while the wooden pallets that their loads of being transported on are checked for adherence to Single Market rules?

      (hat tip to NC, which is the place that I first saw that issue raised and is how I discovered the site)

      I fully accept that I could be wrong – and I partly hope I am, as the more obvious the chaos the harder it is for Johnson to win the imminent election. Maybe every single lorry that arrives will be carefully unloaded while every pallet is checked for the correct regulatory markings. But I definitely feel that it’s in the gift of the French government to decide how chaotic they want it to look.

    3. oaf

      “Falling off a cliff and landing splat is plenty hard. Pray tell how to make that harder?”

      …look up; here comes the *Acme* anvil!!! ; )

  11. Tipster

    For the last three years we have had Remain “constitutional experts” telling us how constitutional and parliamentary rules could be manipulated to frustrate the ‘will of the people’. Then they the same people have a hissy fit over what Johnson has done.
    The UK voted to leave the EU over three years ago. All MP’s had to do was to implement that vote in such way that it also respected the wishes of the 48% who voted remain
    I argued for a Royal Commission that would look at the various options such as no deal or EFTA/EEA, my preferred option. I believe that Royal Commission would have come up with the latter course of direction. Once explained to the British people there would have been a clear majority of support for it apart from the swivel eyed loons on both extremes of the divide.
    Theresa May had an opportunity to show real leadership and go down the EFTA path at the beginning of her leadership, but she didn’t and were here were we are.
    I do say a plague on all your houses. I blame Remain MP’s and ERG MP’s in equal numbers for the mess we are in. Remain MP’s because they tried every trick in the constitutional book to thwart the will of the people.
    Ah, but people didn’t know what they voted was the cry. Hogwash, Cameron had made it clear in his Chatham House speech just days before the vote, if you voted leave, we are gone from the EU. End of story! Guess what, they voted to leave.
    Within a week of the referendum vote, a petition, the first of many, to hold a second referendum had already garnered millions of signatures. How foolish was that? If a ‘period of silence’, as Atlee had famously told Laski, and sanity had prevailed we could have had a grown-up debate as to how we successfully implement the referendum result.
    The contempt shown by Remainer’s for democracy was only exceeded by their arrogance – only they knew best – and they had no allegiance to the notion of British democracy or self-government.
    What are the British people to make of this demonstration of contempt for them by their supposed leaders? For many, the sense that they are not being listened to – which in many ways lay behind the referendum result – will simply have been confirmed.
    The last three years has just eroded people’s belief in our democratic institutions and leaders. So much time has been used up by politicians frustrating their wishes. The simple proposition that our EU membership should end has proved beyond the capacity of Parliament.
    A “no-deal” Brexit, when it happens and its consequences will occur because of the absence of any alternative, brought about by Remainer intransigence and non-acceptance of a democratic vote.

    1. vlade

      Pray tell me more about that bastion of Remain, DUP and Tory’s ERG.

      Blaming Remain MPs for not voting for May’s WA is like blaming Tories for not voting for stonger unions. It’s not what they stand for, they will not vote for it.

      You can, reasonably, blame Labour though. It has, for a long time said “respect the result”, but voted against May’s deal, saying “we can do better”. No, they could not, on the divorce deal at least. They could try to do better on the post-Brexit deal, assuimng they were able to get into the government.

      So, if you do want to blame, do not blame Grieve, Soubry, and even less so LD or SNP. They did what they promised they voters to do. The blame to pass WA lies squarely with ERG, DUP and a majority of Labour MPs.

      1. DaveH

        Even then, a majority of Labour members and voters didn’t (and don’t) support leaving. And it’s a fairly brave MP who votes for something that their supporters are explicitly against, regardless of what their previous manifesto said on the subject.

        1. vlade

          I do not entirely disagree. But did Labour actually really listen to their voters, (both sides of them) or just tried to make sure they didn’t leave before it needed them (and would have dropped one or the other tribe, as required)?

          Labour tried to have it both ways, and it could never work without a lot of legwork that would get their voters on some sort of (workable) compromise – when Labour’s “tests” were of the sort “do you have a single horn? Do you like maidens? Does you name start with a ‘u’?” I.e. equally unworkable as Tories. And they didn’t even explain that WA is not “The Deal” (that assumes they actually understood it).

          1. Tipster

            Yes, Labour also shares plenty of responsibility for the mess.

            The Labour Policy from day one should have been the EFTA/EEA option. Instead they went in search of unicorns of their own.

          2. Clive

            Yes, I can vouch for that. Certainly at a local CLP (Constituency Labour Party) level, there was zero attempts at leadership. Now, one could argue that this was allowing the party membership to find its own voice on the matter, but from my observational evidence, it merely ended up in an incoherent free-for-all with no member being given any guidance as to, for policy design, what the priority was.

            Should we try to follow an narrow electoral aim of contesting the seat by matching the Leave majority in the constituency? Okay, we could have done that, but what about the need to maintain vote share in metropolitan cities (like nearby Southampton)?

            Or should we try to formulate a Leave policy but minimising economic impacts — and have an opportunity to feed into the NEC that EEA/Efta membership should be explored, or signal that the Withdrawal Agreement should be backed?

            Or should we simply be told at CLP level to, in essence, abandon the seat for a while, Labour was going all-out for Remain and there’s going to have to be some casualties, this seat is inevitably one of them (which would have engendered some pushback, but at least there would have been some policy making and something to push back on, with reasons. Which would have been a huge step up from a policy vacuum.

            Instead, all we got from the centre was tumbleweed. So Conference was (best Donald Trump voice) a disaster, total disaster. All the members got to trot out their pet unicorns (“better deals”, “people’s votes”, “hold the Tories to account”, “push for a general election”) which, being unicorns, most members were happy to do nothing more useful than go and pet them.

            I could weep.

            1. vlade

              See, and this is the problem I have with Corbyn. That he’s supposed to provide leadership of the opposition. And leadership actually, now and then, means making choices, and getting people behind them.

              This way he managed to upset both Labour voters and Labour members.

              Compare and contrast with Sturgeon.

  12. DaveH

    “Ah, but people didn’t know what they voted was the cry”

    No, the cry is that different MPs are elected on different platforms.

    My MP was elected in 2017 on a manifesto that supporting remaining in the EU. Why would she support any policy that ran contrary to that?

    1. Tipster

      That’s correct in your case but it’s not for the majority of Members of Parliament who were elected on implementing the 2016 referendum result.

    1. dearieme

      Prorogation is normally uncontroversial yep

      but one of this length is unprecedented in recent times. Rubbish; John Major had a longer one.

      She cheats here by saying “recent times” and then slipping in later that she means only this decade.

      1. larry

        You are misrepresenting what she is saying. Major’s prorogation was about cash for questions, a potentially criminal offense, involving a report which Major hoped would disppear during the election, whereas Johnson’s appears to be primarily about preventing parliament from decision-making, albeit temporarily, and is longer than is needed for his stated purpose. The parliament web site says that the average prorogation is approximately three weeks. He only needs at most two weeks to do what he claims he needs to do, not five weeks. And no election is involved, other than one that might be contrived by him and/or his Machiavellian organizer. But, again, he doesn’t need five weeks for that.

        1. dearieme

          You are misrepresenting what she is saying.

          What you say next has no bearing on this proposition. What care I what Major’s motive was? The fact is that in recent times there has been a longer prorogation and no amount of fancy footwork can deny the fact, whether the terpsichorean efforts be hers or yours.

          Do you deny that she has used “recent times” as a way of disguising the fact that her remarks apply only to this decade?

          1. larry

            I see no evidence that she is disguising anything. And you have supplied none. As for motive and cirsumstance, they can help account for, in this case, the length of a prorogation. In Johnson’s case, motive is there aplenty, but the cirsumstances do not in themselves justify what he is doing.

  13. Raphael00

    Thank you Yves Smith, I’m grateful for your great coverage of Brexit.
    I think some points deserve attention.
    Opposition leaders recently met and they agreed that Parliament should cancel the autumn recess. *
    Also :

    « Constitutional experts can correct me if I’m wrong but I think this means MPs cannot vote against this if it’s prorogation rather than recess dates »

    I’m not an expert of the British political system but it seems to me that Johnson with a prorogation blocks any possibility of cancelling the autumn recess. So it gives to Johnson more time than it appears. Also, from the director of the Hansard Society :

    « However, the government has not brought forward a motion for the conference recess. Any dates for recess have to be agreed by MPs. And Opposition party leaders reportedly discussed opposing such a motion yesterday. »
    I don’t see why Tory rebels would have voted for a recess, but maybe I’m wrong on this one.
    I’m not saying that having more parlementary time would have solved anything, but Johnson is really playing hardball by taking away several weeks from the MPs.
    Also, the Queen speech would also take several precious days, even if, as you said there is the possibility of using amendments.

    This article from Buzzfeed explains that prorogation might be only the beginning :

  14. thoughtful person

    Why did Johnson make the moves he has, even though risks to his Brexit goal?

    Above Yves, and commentariat make these points (and past articles):

    -vote of no confidence and Nov 7th election are possible
    -vote of no confidence and election in 9 to 12 months also possible if Brexit goes badly (likely), in which case Labor picks up some seats
    -DUP is difficult to work with
    -The Irish border is a big post Brexit issue

    Thus, I suspect Johnson is hoping to move into the Post Brexit negotiating phase with the EU (as well as the rest of the world), with a larger majority in Parliament.

    I suspect that the Brexiters are also nervous about NI and Scotland leaving the UK in the event of a post Brexit diaster. One of the biggest issues in negotiations about Brexit has been the divided political situation in the UK. A large majority for Johnson would make negotiations more likely to be successful as getting deals passed in Parliament would be more possible.

    My 2 cents anyway.

    1. vlade

      In a post Brexit negotiations, and govt doesn’t need any agreements with the EU approved by the parliament.

      It needs parliament to approve domestic laws that implement the treaties, but historically, most of these tend to be technical and few if any voters/papers get sufficiently upset about them to stop the govt MPs to vote for them.

      Overall, I believe that things that are very visible and unpassable right now in the WA form, may magically become less visible and more passable. Or not, depending on the actual goals (if any) of the govt.

  15. Ignacio

    I have read about an alternative to the irish backstop that would allow to maintain intact the regulatory framework at both sides of the irish border and avoid controls. This has been proposed by Jonathan Faull, Joseph Weiler and Daniel Sarmiento (the last two are lawyers).

    I haven’t read about it here (I may have missed it) and I would like to read your inputs on this. I also wonder if Johnson sees these aternatives as a menace to block his october 31st no-deal brexit and if that sparked off his move.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Its the first I’ve seen of it. I’m not a trade expert by any means, but it does look to me like its something that could work as a short term response, although knowing the border areas as I do, enforcing the law would be hellishly difficult.

      1. Ignacio

        I believe that enforcing this or any other sensible alternative would be in the best interest of both Dublin and Belfast. Could there be some kind of helping amendment to the GFA?

        1. larry

          It can not damage the single market. Can the claim be plausibly made that this alternative will do that? If not, it is a non-starter.

        2. PlutoniumKun

          I don’t think it would be a case of amending the GFA, not least because I don’t think there is any mechanism to do that (and since the US is a signatory, that means getting a certain President involved).

          But the Irish government would jump at anything that might help avoid a no-deal. The problem I think is that at the moment they are so intensely involved in holding the line that they will find it very difficult to break their attention away to a completely new proposal. It would take time to work out internally if it is genuinely workable – in Ireland this would mean delicate political negotiations in addition to technical work (as the coalition is so unstable). So I think it may be too late to bring in a wild card like this.

      2. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you, both.

        Faull is a former Commission official and worked with Barnier for years. I have met him a few times and am puzzled why he’s rarely, if at all, invited by the MSM to comment.

      3. Detlef

        Not a trade expert either. I only read a bit in the last few years.

        It deals with regulatory compliance by making the export of goods (not complying) a criminal offense.
        And who checks that? The buyers of goods?
        Let´s leave the (government) work to the private market?

        It deals with customs by creating “EU Trade Centres” away from the border.
        Might work as a short term response but creating them would takes some time too?
        And wouldn´t these trade centres also need to check regulatory compliance?
        Or do we follow “trust but not verify”?

        The article / proposal doesn´t say anything at all about SPS checks. Which according to EU law should be close to the EU border. Understandable if you want to avoid the spread of animal or plant diseases.
        Did they forget them?
        Or would that too be a job for the trade centres?
        Building them then would take even more time.
        I seem to remember that the Border Inspection Post in Calais needed some time.
        Who would do the checks? And with what authority?
        EU officials in British trade centres? British ones in Ireland?
        And which (certified) laboratories will analyze samples?

        Short term I expect fudges.
        But this proposal seems to contain too many fudges to work mid and long term. Especially as a plan to replace the backstop.

        1. Anonymous 2

          I have looked into this a little and claim no expertise. I believe, however, that it has not been received with any enthusiasm in the places that matter (Brussels and ? Dublin). The most obvious problem I see is that if you rely on your counterparty’s law making it illegal to export goods to you which contravene your regulations, what do you do if your counterparty chooses not to enforce compliance with its laws? What is your remedy? Basically, the idea is that the EU trusts the UK – given the UK’s recent performance and the fact that Johnson is observably the most duplicitous UK Prime Minister in memory, why would the EU do that?

        2. Ignacio

          This is checked at Trade Centers located in the Republic, Northern Ireland and the UK if Northern Irelanders don’t want to feel different from the rest of the Union. Tariff duties, when necessary, would be collected on those. Instead of border checks there would be spot checks. Remember controlling that border would be a nightmare. Personal shopping would be exempted from controls. There would be EU and UK officials in the corresponding trade centers on the other side of the border.

          Being the backstop the main issue that brings us to no-deal brexit I don’t know why not making every effort in avoiding it.

    2. vlade

      I don’t believe it would work.

      The knowing introduction of regulated goods for sale is importing banned goods, which is called smuggling, which already has penalties including imprisonment.

      Yes, this makes it easier to go after smugglers in their own states, but there you already have extradiction treaties etc. So I don’t believe it would be a major improvement.

      1. Ignacio

        Yes, introducing non certified goods would be smuggling. The difference with other kind of smuggling is that both the country of origin and the country of entry can enforce the penalties whereas in other instances this only occurs in the country of entry. The smuggler won’t be protected hiding in the country of origin.

  16. AEL

    How is this for a last minute twist? Through some last minute parliamentary process, the withdrawal act gets put in front of Parliament again, just before October 31. Would it pass, given the certainty of crash out with the week?

    1. Clive

      It’s not just the U.K. Parliament approving the Withdrawal Agreement in the Meaningful Vote. Even if that happened, the Head of Government would need to request an extension from the EU Council to both pass the primary legislation to give the Agreement legal force in the U.K. (so this might be a year or more) and, right away, without any delay whatsoever, also pass secondary legislation to counteract the initiation of the Commencement Order which has already started the clock ticking on the nullification of the European Communities Act (which is what gives the EU a U.K. domestic legal foothold).

      A lot of things, then, that need to be done in virtually zero parliamentary time and requires the cooperation of the U.K. Prime Minister. Did I forget to also mention, and the EU27 would have to agree, in advance, to grant any extension without the slightest guarantee that the U.K. would be any more sensible in a new extension period than it has been in the last two. It only takes one Member State to say “oh, enough already”.

      1. vlade

        The UK needs to pass primary legislation to deal with no-deal Brexit, which is unlikely (the passing of legislation). So I’d not get too hung up on the need to do it if the WA was passed.

        The problem there might be somewhat different. I believe that the UK govt signed the WA already, and it was just the Parliament’s ratification of the signature that was required. It ain’t so. So the WA needs not only to be ratified, but also signed. What if the Parliament ratifies it, but Johnson refuses to sign (as he likely would)?

        Remmeber, it has to be legally in force before the Brexit happens. So what would happen if the Parliament agreed, Johnson didn’t sign, and the Brexit happened? !!!FUN!!!

    2. PlutonumKun

      A few of us have speculated before that Corbyn could try to pull such a trick to lumber Johnson with a WA that he hates. I suspect that if Corbyn sold it internally as a way of ensuring a humiliation for Johnson, he could, along with Tory rebels, get enough votes for it. I don’t know what the mechanism could be though for him to move a motion of this sort in the time available and whether there is any way for Johnson to stop it.

      1. David

        I don’t think there’s any precedent for the Opposition moving a motion to approve a piece of legislation withdrawn by the government. Indeed, you only have to say that to yourself several times to be overcome (as I was) by a fit of giggles. But then we’ve been in surrealist mode for some months now.
        It’s just about possible that with the Speaker’s support (which would be forthcoming) some motion could be contrived and passed which called on the government to put the WA to the House again, but I don’t see how the government could be forced to, or how anyone else could ask the House to approve a Bill that had been defeated three times, and withdrawn by the government. Bright ideas anybody?

        1. AEL

          Recall that prorogation resets the counter. i.e the Withdrawal agreement is “fresh” and has no history of being withdrawn (or failed votes).

  17. Titus

    ‘”British-style “democracy”’ The UK is a constitutional monarchy, not a democracy. To quote Richard North today ‘since when have we known democracy?”. (In the comments)

  18. Synoia

    British-style “democracy”’ The UK is a constitutional monarchy…

    Err, No.

    The UK is a monarchy – there is voluminous custom, and precedent. None of the custom is binding in any legal manner, and precedent is binding only until upset by different precedent.

    The Monarch is Sovereign, and cannot be challenged outside the field of battle. The Prime Minister now wields the Sovereign’s power, but previously it was wielded by the Lord Chancellor.

    The UK’s Governance is sometime referred to as “A Dictatorship by Parliament,” but in reading comments on the “Fixed Term Parliament Act” it appears the Person wielding the Sovereign’s power is becoming ascendant.

    This weird system is the rationale behind the US’ written constitution. Unfortunately the US Constitution also encourages poor governance by relying on legal precedence, a problem that Napoleon fixed, and the EU now uses.

    When the EU persuades the current non Code Napoleon countries to abandon the precedent system, I’d expect the EU will always impose this form of Governance on all new members.

  19. Mirdif

    This is all part of a ploy to put a very slightly modified deal to Parliament after the European Council in October and focus minds that it’s this deal or crash out – an extension to pass legislation will still be needed and I would imagine that he would ask for and receive it on the basis that the deal is passed. He’s highly likely to ask for it on that same basis thus focussing minds even more.

    Johnson is not aiming for crash out. If he was he’d have prorogued in to November. It may also help the polling numbers as he’d like to hold an election in November after having passed the deal and thus demonstrating that he’s upheld the will of the people.

    It’s a very high stakes strategy and it may yet fail but I think no deal is not likely just yet – though it is more likely than it ever was under May. According to some of the Brussels correspondents on twitter Johnson has gone down quite well with Merkel and Macron and in the wider EU. He’s come to be seen as a more political operator and more dynamic than his predecessor in the previous few weeks. They feel he has more manoeuvers up his sleeve than she did.

  20. VietnamVet

    This is an outstanding discussion. Although not mentioned, I think Mark Blyth is correct. Boris Johnson and Donald Trump are similar due to the current structure of the global economic system that is run for plutocrats by credentialed technocrats based on the free flow of capital, media propaganda, screwing workers, and destroying the environment. The differences between the USA and the UK are due to our languages and political systems. In both countries there is exploding inequality and decreased life expectancy. A no deal Brexit, the China trade wars, and the showdown with Iran are absolutely not in the people’s interest. Chaos makes money for those who exploit disruption. The only peaceful way out is the restoration of the people’s sovereignty over corporations by constitutional elected governments.

    1. Synoia

      The only peaceful way out is the restoration of the people’s sovereignty over corporations by constitutional elected governments.

      Well, yes , maybe, in the US. Maybe no – Electoral College?

      In the UK? The people have never been Sovereign. They have always been only free to die.

      There was some war about that topic in 1760 ish.

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