Brexit: Over to Parliament

I have to confess that I did not anticipate that the EU Council would be willing to sign off on a political draft of a deal where the text that is not final (it has not gone though the legal review) nor been presented to the sherpas for their close reading and advice to their principals. So my bad.

Bear in mind that this is not final on the EU end: the deal still needs to be ratified by the EU Parliament, and then formally approved by the EU Council. But the next step in the process is sign-off by Parliament, which is very much an open question.

The EU was willing to bend on its normally strict procedures for one simple reason: that Johnson having so committed himself to needing to get a deal by the EU Council gave them negotiating leverage, which they exploited. Even though the non-binding future relationship document envisions a more bare “free trade agreement” type arrangement than May’s deal did, which is something the EU isn’t keen about but must regrettably accept, it got the UK to accept a “sea border” with some rules on customs duties to improve the optics. A high-level explanation from the Financial Times:

Mr Johnson’s negotiating team has accepted that, following Brexit, Northern Ireland would apply the EU’s customs and tariffs rules and have them overseen by the European Court of Justice. The agreement means there would not be significant customs checks on the island. Instead, all goods would be checked in mainland Britain.

The plan bears similarities to the Northern Ireland-only backstop the EU put forward in February 2018. That idea was superseded by Mrs May’s alternative all-UK backstop idea which was then rejected three times by the UK parliament.

Under the agreement, Northern Ireland would benefit from UK trade deals with third countries — a key demand of Mr Johnson — and Northern Irish businesses would be eligible for a rebate on some tariffs. But the system would still entail the creation of a significant border between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland. 

Or another way of thinking of it:

Note that the text is already being criticized as being too sketchy and bearing the marks of being cobbled together, with the risk of allowing smuggling, a big EU concern, and argues more needs to be fleshed out.

Some other changes are worth noting. One is that due to the passage of time, the cost of the famed exit tab has fallen from an estimated from £39 billion to £33 billion.

And the “future relationship” document, which is admittedly non-binding, contains a huge concession if it holds up: that the UK will maintain a “level playing field” with the EU, as in not undermine EU environmental or labor standards. That gives Johnson a big talking point with Labour, since a big concern was weakening labor rights. Of course, this would also wipe out one of the big reasons for squillionaires to back the agreement: that they’d be able to profit handsomely with a low-regulation, buccaneer Britain. If I were an MP, I’d worry about a bait and switch.

Another very big advantage to the EU of getting this deal done is the blame game. If Parliament fails to approve it or other UK machinations (will skip over the scenarios) result in a crash out, the EU can correctly say it bent over backwards, and the fix the UK is in is entirely of its own doing.

This situation also appears to put Johnson in the catbird seat, but we’ll lay out some alternate scenarios below. He is unquestionably in better shape than he was a few days ago. Per Clive:

Johnson doesn’t I suspect give a fig about the deal. It’s primary purpose is as a political device.

If the deal does pass, that’s a win. All hail Johnson, king of the deal. And it does at least resolve the matter.

If the deal doesn’t pass, then even so it allows Johnson to resolve the niggly criticism which would otherwise dog him — that nasty old no good no dealing Johnson, ooh, isn’t he just awful wanting to crash out, tut tut. Oh… wait a minute.

Having not passed the deal, it gets even better for Johnson. The Remain rabble alliance have then do something. But what? Add some referendum clause to a provisional approval? That lets Johnson off the Benn Act letter hook. A referendum would need EU approval via an extension, but, oopsie, Johnson no longer has to ask for one as a deal has been passed. Or the Remain faction needs to form a government, but we’ve been round that loop and it doesn’t seem to get anywhere Because Corbyn.

So we’re then back at an election where, astoundingly, it’s Johnson the Moderate, middle-way’ing through the Brexit extremists (Leave Spartans on one side, Remain Spartans on the other). That’s if the EU gives and extension for an election. But who’s going to ask? The Remainers could force Johnson to comply with the Benn Act, but the letter will be sent on the basis of an election, not more negotiations for a deal.

Does Johnson have the votes? He doesn’t have a majority in Parliament but the math is way more complicated and no one seems close to having a good whip count.

The DUP is against the deal. Conventional wisdom is they’ll accept a bribe from Johnson but I’ve also heard a contrary view, that the DUP members are hard core ideologues and are willing to pay the political price for sticking to their guns. Of course, it’s way easier to do that if the margin of loss is greater than the votes you represent.

LibDems predictably are against the deal:

SNP predictably are against the deal:

Labour is a mess. Corbyn is making outraged noises about the deal, but a lot of Labour MPs are expected to defect:

The Guardian reports that Labour may allow MPs a free vote and we’ll know Friday if Labour tries to whip them. A pessimist based on Labour’s shambolic record:

….but a later Jones tweet says the leadership is getting its act in gear:

The Tories are more of a mess than you’d think. Remember that Johnson engaged in an unheard of purging of the Cabinet. The Hammond wing of the party is sour on the deal due to it being a harder Brexit than May’s. The Financial Times also reports a lot of businessmen are not happy, but they’ve never made themselves a faction that has to be reckoned with.

On top of that, despite Rees-Mogg coming out hard for the deal and ERG rag Brexit Central also high-fiving, it’s not clear all the Ultras are on board either. As vlade noted, “Some are just really beyond the ken.”

So there are likely to be be Tory votes against or at least abstentions, but it isn’t at all clear how many, but there may be a better nose count as the day progresses.

What might the opponents do? Johnson’s best friend is speed. If he can’t get the deal over the line Saturday, the Benn Act kicks in. Seeking an extension doesn’t just slow things down, it vitiates the air of inevitability and allows more sand to be thrown into the gears. Note that Juncker’s remarks on an extension have been misinterpreted, plus this is the EU Council’s call. Politico’s AM newsletter reported that the EU leaders were respecting a Johnson request to avoid discussing an extension, but that didn’t last long:

It has always been pretty close to certain that the EU would grant a UK extension request, but may come back with a short one (as opposed to the Benn Act January 31 drop dead date) and tell the UK that to get a longer one, it needs to say how it plans to come up with a different outcome, like a GE or second referendum.

Various plots are afoot. Only a partial list:

On the legal front, Jo Maugham has been in overdrive. Note that the view below is based on some arguably poor drafting in the Benn Act as it appears to contemplate a different order of approvals than the ones that apply. Nevertheless, the Act states that the UK must have “concluded an agreement with the European Union under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union” or otherwise seek an extension. But it cannot have done that until the EU Council ratifies the deal. The Government will argue that the Act if read literally could not be met. It will be interesting if Benn himself has to testify if the House does issue the order and the Government contests it.

Maugham has already lodged a filing, due to be heard Friday, that the deal is illegal because, to quote the BBC:

Under the current law, Section 55 of the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act 2018 prevents Northern Ireland from having different customs rules than the rest of the UK.

Now that means that Parliament has to vote to overturn that first before it can approve Johnson’s deal…but that isn’t what the Government planned to do, and more moving parts create more points of failure.

Finally, Richard North points out that if a deal fails, Johnson would face a vote of no confidence (although we have the complicating factor that Labour has been very loath to call one, for the obvious reason that polls suggest they’d lose lots of seats to the LibDems….so weirdly, their incentives are to drag things out and still hope that Brexit happens, since that would make voting for the LibDems to vote for a second referendum moot. How you square that circle is beyond me).

Johnson would still be able to control the timing of an election if he lost, but if he goes past December 12, he runs into logistical issues:

Predictably, when you think about it, many village halls and other locations used for polling station will already be booked for festive events like pantomimes and parties in the weeks leading up to Christmas. To avoid clashes – with a minimum of five weeks required for an election campaign – that means an election would need to be called within the next three weeks.

Add two weeks to that, if the vote of no confidence option is triggered – the period allowed for the second vote – and that would give Johnson the very narrow window of a week. If missed, it could be February before an election could be held, with all the complications that that might entail.

In terms of the potential for electoral success, there might be significant variations in the outcome for Johnson in the different campaigning scenarios. Generally, the polls seem to suggest he might do better if he went to the country after the UK has left the EU, as against a situation where he had failed to achieve a deal and was forced to fight against a background of continued EU membership.

What hasn’t been tested, though – as far as I am aware – is the scenario where he has successfully negotiated a deal, but where the three-month extension is implemented anyway, again forcing him to go to the country while we are still in the EU.

As you can see, this is still an overly dynamic situation. Stay tuned.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Jabbawocky

    It seems over to the ERG really. They always said they wouldn’t throw the DUP under a bus, and are now being invited to do just that. What it says if they will do this for Boris, but not for Theresa May, I don’t know.

    Is it a good deal for the U.K? Personally I find it depressing and I think it’s worse than the May deal. It splits the U.K. into two customs territories. It weakens U.K. access to foreign markets. U.K. influence over the EU is lost. This means we will have to comply with EU regulations yet have absolutely no say on making them. It makes the U.K. more vulnerable to trade wars. It makes the U.K. more vulnerable to US influence than it already is.

    It’s basically the latest iteration of Washington Consensus politics with the U.K. as victim. No doubt next the U.K. will be tasked with slashing agricultural tariffs and accepting quotas of US agricultural imports, just like the quotas that were banished when we joined the EU. Unsurprisingly, these are the stated aspirations of the Brexiteer tribe and readers of Michael Hudson on this site will know their origin only too well. This is the irony of ‘take back control’ which is nothing more than full US vassal state status for the U.K. It seems this is only understood by the French.

    1. vlade

      The real irony of that is that almost 250 years post the American revolution, the UK right-wing elites stage a “revolution” to become an American dependency.

  2. vlade

    Actually, the level playing field was in WAC, now it’s in the political declaration, so in theory softer and a concession from the EU. In practice though, it’s an FTA lever. “You want FTA? Level playing field”. It can be easier defined and better defended in a trade treaty than a WA.

    If the UK won’t have an FTA, then the EU doesn’t care as it can retaliate.

    Except of course Johnson can internally show it as a win too to his hard-Brexit buddies (“See, we can have an FTA w/o that!”

    1. Jabbawocky

      Right. And this is why the Brexiteers are still saying that they can get their ‘no deal’ Brexit at the end of 2020, when we will find ourselves basically back to where we are now.

      1. vlade

        Except that in the meanwhile they already committed to:
        – the EU citizen status
        – the money question
        – the NI question

        So it’s not the same as no-deal.

    2. Yves Smith Post author

      I saw the level playing field in the WA as a belt and suspenders move, since the UK would have been still subject to EU supervision and enforcement on trade during the transition period. So I didn’t give it much mind.

      Chris Grey has a good point as to what moving the text means:

      There would be a price to pay for that, of course, since without agreeing to LPF any trade deal would at best be of a minimal ‘Canada Minus’ sort, whereas Brexiters typically say that they want a Canada +++ deal. Still, it may well be that Canada Minus is where they now want to go, especially given Johnson’s desire to do a quick trade deal with the US, which would be impeded by LPF. Moreover, the fact that the government are now talking about the trade deal with the EU being completed within about a year suggests either that it still hasn’t understood the complexities of trade negotiations or that it is content with a very narrowly-scoped agreement.

  3. David

    I think that from the moment that the all-day all-night negotiations started this week, it was clear that the EC would have to accept any agreement that emerged from them. Otherwise, what would the point of the negotiations have been? It would have been bizarre for the 27 to have rejected all that work, and an agreement which the Irish said they were satisfied with. I presume that Barnier must have warned the major EU leaders in advance that this was likely to happen, and got their agreement to nod through an essentially preliminary, largely political, draft. I was surprised at first that the EU hadn’t attached any conditions, but then you have to recognise that (1) everybody is fed up and wants to get on with other things and (2) there simply wasn’t the time – and probably not the inclination – to agree at 27 what these conditions would be. The EC has essentially kicked the ball down the road, and I expect that they will live to regret it.
    One point I haven’t seen much commented on, is that the events of the last couple of months have substantially weakened Johnson’s position, and the position of British Prime Ministers for the future. Parliament has flexed its muscles for the first time in centuries, and the courts have ordered Parliament to sit. In themselves, neither of these things is necessarily that important, but they do show a subtle but important shift in the balance of power within the UK system. What has happened once can happen again. And again. Electoral arithmetic is now so complex and confusing that there may well never be another UK government with a working majority formed by a single party, which will have all sorts of political effects that at the moment are hard to foresee.

    1. Ignacio

      I believe that if this gets approved there may be later a lot to regret in the EU part. Particularly with the precedent of such fast track negotiations.

      1. vlade

        To an extent, what the EU did here was told Ireland “Are you ok with it”, and they said “Yes”. So any future problems will be laid squarely on its doors.

        If this for some reason starts breaking the single market in a noticeable way, the EU can relatively easily (compared to continental Europe) quarantine Ireland (entirely legally, the EU countries can suspend single-market in circumstances where it means preventing illegal goods entering them. Is often used as tit-for-tat already in agri markets)

        1. makedoanmend

          There’s no intention to suspend Ireland from the EU in the future. Provision for a breakdown in the agreement due to political factors in the North have been taken into consideration.

          The deal states that if circumstances warrant a hard border in the future, a hard border will be instituted…(same as if hard Brexit occurs)…

          “Mr Barnier said the solution rests on four main elements:

          1. Northern Ireland remains aligned to limited rules on goods – all applicable procedures on goods will take place at the points of entry into Northern Ireland and not across the island. In this respect, the UK authorities will be in charge of applying the EU customs code with Northern Ireland.

          2. Beyond applicable procedures, customs duties. Northern Ireland will remain in the UK customs territory and will benefit from UK future trade policy. But Northern Ireland will also remain an entry point into the EU single market. To square this circle, Mr Barnier said UK authorities can apply UK tariffs on products from third countries so long as those goods entering Northern Ireland do not risk entering the single market via the Republic. Those goods at risk of entering EU will be subject to EU tariffs.

          3. VAT issue. To avoid distortion of competition in single market have managed to achieve two objectives – to maintain integrity of single market and keep UKs wishes.

          4. Mr Johnson and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar wanted to ensure long term democratic support for the UK – four years after entering the protocall the elected members of NI will be able to decide by simple majority whether to continue applying relevant rules in Northern Ireland or not. This is the cornerstone of the newly-agreed approach…

          …Under the terms of the agreement, Northern Ireland would take on the new customs and regulatory regime for four years after the end of the transition period, which is due to conclude at the end of 2020.

          At that point Stormont would have to take a view as to whether or not to opt out of the new arrangements.

          If Stormont voted to opt out, then there would be a two-year cooling-off period, during which all sides would have to find an alternative way of complying with the Good Friday Agreement and avoiding a hard border.

          If at the end of the two years no alternative was found, then the protocol would lapse, meaning Ireland would be back to a hard border scenario.

          However, if the Stormont Assembly were to collapse during that period, then the default would be that the protocol arrangements would continue to apply…”


          On a different note, the mood music in Europe has changed during the last 6 months. It really does seem that both Europe and the EU mindset has completely moved beyond Brexit – to – ‘just lets get this done and move on’. Brexit is water under the bridge…except for its zombie-like ability to not stop moving.

          My take on the settlement is that the Irish Republic is buying time to create new trade deals and routes, and to begin a PR blitz so ensure that current and future trading partners know that any breakdown of the settlement won’t affect the Republic’s ability to institute a hard border when it feels the need to do so. More significantly, it will emphasize that any possible future troubles in the six counties will be kept there and out of Republic’s business.

          I look on entire settlement as a quarantine exercise by the Irish Republic.

          ” ‘We’re not even using the UK as a landbridge’ ” :

          Speaking with a local trucker in Monaghan, he claimed that the Ferry companies had brought in bigger roll-on-roll-off ferries but had also kept the older fleet this time rather than selling it off, as they would have done in the past.

          I still believe, due to the ability of trucks to currently pick up goods in England which may cease after Brexit, that there will be a “consolidation” of the haulage business in Ireland, and plenty of smaller outfits will disappear.

          1. makedoanmend

            Further to the point, the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, has just had to admit to the public that the…

            “Deal leaves ‘outside chance’ of future hard border”


            (The poor grammar + proofreading in the long’ish quote in my comment above was not corrected because I don’t believe in altering quotes. The poor grammar, syntax and spelling on my part is due to the fact that I’m not good at grammar, syntax and spelling.)

          2. Ignacio

            Thank you, Makedoandmend. Brexit fatigue must have been a critical factor here. Hopefully tomorrow it is done…

            1. makedoanmend

              I entirely agree Ignacio on both extreme fatigue of all concerned and the hope for tomorrow…but if it passes…well…then trade negotiations begin…bah….

              …but hopefully the trade negotiations will be done behind closed doors, in the dark, in a sound-proof chamber…

              …but we get to peek once in a while ;-)

              …gluttons for punishment

          3. none

            Brexit aside, has NI been trending towards wanting unification? I get that it is not ready for that yet. Is Brexit likely to accelerate that process? I.e. if hard border becomes possible, could they hold the GFA unification referendum with a shot at it passing?

            1. makedoanmend

              To give it a short, shallow answer:

              too many moving parts to give an honest prognostication…from me or anyone else…if anyone from any perspective says otherwise, i’d say they are deluded…

              …but the upshot, as Brexit has informed, is that the UK still has mass and therefore gravity to affect Ireland even if Ireland is not a veritable consideration of the UK…other than food…such an over abundance of food…

              …but what do the masses and the sub-masses of Irish nationalist and Republicans think – North of that border???…(the ignored and invisible Irish tribe)…like the Kurds???…playthings of the gods???…

        2. Fazal Majid

          Beef imports from the UK and Éire were banned from 1996 to 2005 due to the mad cow disease crisis.

          1. makedoanmend

            During the UK foot-and-mouth outbreak of 2007, this happened:

            “…Following the confirmation of the outbreak, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland closed all of their ports to livestock, fresh meat and non-pasteurised milk imports, and have ordered disinfectant measures to be put in place at ports and airports all over the island…”

            The island agricultural economy was protected by both the government in Dublin and the assembly in Belfast.

            But I don’t think these suspensions due to particular agricultural events are what is indicated by the suggestion of suspension of Ireland from the larger and general EU trading economy. The larger issue, at least, has been considered in this settlement. If the Republic’s business community, local and international in scope, is affected, then a hard border will occur to protect those interests within the operational scope of the Republic’s status as a member of the EU.

    2. vlade

      I did write here before (and so did others) that whether people realise it or not, what we’re seeing in the UK is a revolution, and the political system will not be what it was up till a few years back.

      It may not kill FPTP just yet, but as you say, the forces of executive/legislative and judicary were redefined.

      I was very surprised that no-one commented on the SC ruling, as for example “it it is for the court and not for Parliament to determine the scope of Parliamentary privilege” effectively limits the Parliament’s sovreignty saying that a Court _can_ rule against the Parliament.

      1. Reality Bites

        I completely agree. When I read the S.C. judgment I was immediately reminded of the judgment of the (then) HoL in the case trying to overturn the fox hunting ban during the Blair premiership. Overlooked in that case was the fact that at least one law lord endorsed the view that the courts can refuse to effect to primary legislation if it is too odious. The court didn’t fully lay out the conditions but I found amazing since I had also studied US law. People forget that the US judiciary did not quickly embrace the ability to strike down laws even after Marbury v. Madison. In fact, Marbury lost his case.

        For those that say that the U.K. SC will regret wading into the political thicket, I don’t think so. The court was forced into this position by BoJo and quite frankly, he was only a continuation of PMs pushing the envelope along with poorly considered constitutional legislation like FTPA. The creation of the SC was itself really the result of a fight between the Lord Chancellor and David Blunkett in the Blair years.

        The U.K. has needed serious political reform for years and it is going to be painful.

      2. rd

        I find this vote fascinating, as it is effectively turning the House of Commons into a democracy with one man(woman) one vote instead of toeing party lines like normal. The parties seem to have lost their purpose and their way over the past two years and it will be interesting to see what party structures rebuild in the wake of this.

      3. rtah100

        Where did the Miller ruling define the scope of parliamentary privilege and what does that have to do with parliamentary sovereignty? Privilege is the right of members to speak freely and not to be arrested in conduct of their office. Parliamentary sovereignty is the concept of the Crown-in-Parliament having supreme power, not one or the other.

        The Miller case merely defined the scope of the Royal Prerogative in terms of its effects on Parliament’s function. I’m not a fan of the current parliament or the UK constitutional set up and it would be nice to think the remoaners shot themselves in the foot in the long term but it was about executive prerogative, not parliamentary privilege (i.e. immunity) or sovereignty (i.e. the real political settlement in the UK).

        The relationship of parliament and the government is a mess, because of incremental changes and in particular the FTPA. Parliament has a *duty* to elect an effective government from its ranks but, by taking the power to dissolve away from the PM, Parliament can now keep an ineffective government in place like a cat toying with a mouse.

        The answer may lie in history. I’ve seen it stated (but not found any textbook detail to back this up) that until the early 20th C. the convention was that MP’s were not appointed as Ministers. It was felt to be Crown patronage which would fetter parliamentary sovereignty – the same thinking is preserved in the convention that MP’s cannot resign except by accepting an “office of profit” from the Crown. My view is that if Parliament is going to hold the executive to account more, its members will ironically have to accept less power: they will have back bench status (so they have no power without responsibility) and the prime minister will have the power to dissolve parliament and put the question of the day to the people in an election (so they have no responsibility without power).

        Also, the Supreme Court could be overruled, potentially, by the High Court of Parliament (the houses sitting together as a court). It was convention that cases went to the law lords and it is convention / statute (have not checked) that they go to the Supreme Court. I do not believe that Parliament has surrendered its judicial authority. It is also the basis of its power to subpoena and imprison in the gaol in the House! :-)

      4. Titus

        I did object here. The Speaker of Commons could have just as easily put an end to the whole farce. Further the court was not unbiased – at least 2 of the judges are still judges of various E.U. courts, but it is worse than all of that, from who was bringing these cases, as to the reasoning as to why the court would have standing. Vlade your a very good advocate, I find when I’m not in court I lack the stamina for it.

  4. .Tom

    “SNP predictably are against the deal.” Could Johnson buy SNP support with promises of his government’s support for an indyref next year? Is that what Sturgeon is saying in the clip on STV?

    1. vlade

      That could happen – but as it would almost certainly result in Scotland leaving, I’m not sure how some of the Tories (nominally “Unionist” party) would take it. Mind you, most of their English voters would like it…

      It would create a real admin nightmare for the UK too – negotiating any external treaties (with the EU too), and negotiating the Scottish independence at the same time..

      Not that Johnson gives a fig.

      Of course, it would also mean that SNP would have to support Johnson’s government until it was done, as any elections before then could easily wipe the promise out.

      1. .Tom

        The 2014 indyref was allowed by a Conservative and Unionist Party UK government, so there’s some precedent in that. And the Johnson government just agreed a WA with the EU that doesn’t entirely accord with unionism. And the Conservatives, under May, hitched Brexit to an ideology of English nationalism and superiority that Johnson relies on even more.

      2. John k

        Weakens labor, twofer for Boris. And oil is running out anyway.
        Tories have solid majority to solve mess… and gut nhs…

  5. David Campbell

    I am an ordinary “Joe Six-pack” Irish citizen (a pensioner).
    I would like to urge fellow Irish citizens, and anyone of Irish extraction in the U.S.,, to contact friends and family in the UK, and ask them to lobby local MPs of all parties,
    to vote fo Boris’s Deal.

    1. Darius

      Did Ireland just agree to surrender key elements of sovereignty to the UK and future US dependency? That seems like the logical result of an ambiguous border. Brexit was always going to be a disaster for Ireland. The only way to do it is a united Ireland, which Ulster unionists won’t accept. Still, am I correct that Ireland should have insisted on a hard border rather than risk getting cut off by the EU due to smuggling?

      1. makedoanmend

        The Irish Republic did not surrender any sovereignty. If needs be, a hard border will be instituted.* The Republic could set up a hard border tomorrow on its own territory and, barring an invasion from some country, no one can stop them. The Republic would rather a border did not exist for one reason and one reason only – business. The current administration in Ireland (Fine Gael), and indeed its predecessor (Fianna Fáil who support the current government) have one over-riding agenda – make money for business.

        If an open border makes more money for business people, then that is what the government wants. If, however, a hard border would protect existing business or if an open border hurt existing business, then a hard border will be put up pronto.

        I suspect this situation, which is so evident to the monied class in the Republic and indeed by many of their counterparts in the six counties of the North, is what perplexes Southern politicians about the DUP – a party known to like money itself, and lots of it.

        *see comments above by the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (Taoiseach: Irish: “Chieftain”) regarding the possibility of a hard border in the future.

    2. anonymous

      I urge the opposite. Giving any mandate to the tories is counterproductive and will only serve to buy them leeway to further lie cheat and steal.

  6. Boatwright

    Most interesting, point by point examination of the proposed barriers to trade and free movement that the Brexiteers believe will bring them happiness by keeping the frogs and wogs at a safe distance.

    Speaking as a Yank, I can’t help but wonder what exactly London thinks is going to happen along the Northern Ireland border after this mess is made the law of the land. Essentially no one one either side of the fading former border supports Brexit. As the American experience with Prohibition demonstrates, unless London is willing to put troops shoulder to shoulder along the border, wholesale smuggling and nearly complete disregard for the law will become the norm.

    This, in spite of ideas of feats of comic daring-do, could become a matter of gangster style corruption. This will become a sad burden for all who are just recovering from generations of past English engendered violence.

    1. rtah100

      NI may be many things but it is hardly English-engendered violence.

      – The non-Irish settlement of Ulster was promoted by the (Scottish) Stuart monarchy and accomplished mainly with lowland Scots (hence “Scots-Irish” as a popular USian-hyphen), and doubled down on by the House of Orange (Dutch, last time I looked). The French and other European powers got involved on the opposite sides at various points.
      – The Troubles involved the British government, not an English one.
      – 64% of the killings in the Troubles were attributed to the IRA (there was a tally in the last couple of days, I think a link from NC), under 5% for the various security forces.

      And on the other side of the border, parts of Ireland are still recovering economically from driving / burning out the protestant merchant class into exile in the UK and elsewhere, like the French drove out the Huguenots before them.

      It’s been an equal opportunities, European ethno-religious disaster from the outset.

      1. makedoanmend

        Nothing is only the fault of one party in any dispute, but…

        1. “And on the other side of the border, parts of Ireland are still recovering economically from driving / burning out the protestant merchant class into exile in the UK and elsewhere, like the French drove out the Huguenots before them.”

        This is just not true. Full stop.

        The border in the Republic is full of protestants and merchants to this very day. You need only visit Monaghan Town to know the actual circumstances. My spouse worked for one such individual, and she worked the 12th of July so that her one of her co-workers could visit the North each year on this protestant holiday of triumph. Several dozens of the most successful businesses in Monaghan and Cavan counties have protestant antecedents and no mention of any sort of bother now or in the past – even during the darkest days of the troubles. If there is a lag in economic growth in the border region, it is due to the hard border that was effectively dictated to us by the British empire. Only after the border effectively disappeared did full economic activity flourish across that gross divide.

        One cannot project what happened in the six counties onto the culture and history of the Republic. It does not work that way. Some of the staunchest advocates of continunuing Irish independence in Monaghan Town and its environs are protestants.

        There was no massive flow of people from the Republic to England/Britain after independence. Most of those who went to England did so because they were direct officials engaged in the administration of Ireland for the British Empire*, and some ran to Britain (both protestants and catholics) because their activities of spying for the British regime lead to local deaths, and some just couldn’t countenance not being part of the Empire.

        To be sure, there were some regrettable incidents during and just after the independence, but they were few and far between given how widespread the discontent was. Still, that is not an excuse for that type of behaviour, however isolated.

        2. The scorecard you gave is contested – too say the least. Once one adds in the collusion between the British “security forces” and loyalists, the scorecard changes very dramatically. After all, the largest loss of life in a single day was carried out by British security forces/loyalists on 17-4-1974 killing 34 people (including a full term unborn) and injured another 300 in coordinated bombings in Dublin and Monaghan on that date.

        3. The wish to cleanse the record or suggest that what occurred in Ireland was just Europeans doing business is not supported by the larger historical context. The Cromwellian massacres along with the famine also need to be addressed, amongst many other events too numerous to recount here. The traffic of dominance was a one way street.

        *In fact the Irish government had to beg some civil servants to stay and pay them high salaries in order to keep their expertise. Also, the British quickly “loaned” the new Irish government guns, including artillery, in order to defeat those Republicans who did not accept the division of Ireland. In fact, the Irish government was happy to hang Republicans who would not be tamed.

        Trying to portray the Irish independence as a sectarian exercise isn’t borne out by actual history. Sectarianism is the card used by Winston Churchill’s father in Ulster to bolster his own political fortunes, and was the political foundation of the six counties – a ‘protestant country for a protestant people’ and all that malarkey.

        Thankfully, due to the lack of a visual border, all that mentality from all communities is slowly fading away. Long may it continue.

        The Peace process can be a movement to heal wounds, and it has been used by many to do so. For those who can’t get on board…

        So be it.

        1. rtah100

          1) Identity is the root cause of the Troubles so we should not mix it up and confuse English and British. The point I am making is that the security forces are British (i.e. English but also Scottish and Welsh and bits of Commonwealth too) and the loyalists are Irish. The violence was not English-engendered unless you think Britain = England. Indeed, it was barely British engendered, given British forces caused 9% of the deaths only. Even talking about British / loyalist collusion does not justify the accusation unless you think the loyalists were British puppets. And the historical plantation of Ulster was the act of an essentially Scottish monarch.

          2) My reference to the Hugenots is well founded. The protestant population of the territory of the Republic was 356,786 in 1891 and 107,423 in 1991, one hundred years of continuous decline and a decrease of 70%.

          (data from the census, via Wikipedia:

          A few of those people left with their homes burning behind them and many more left because they saw what happened to the few and did not feel welcome / safe. Even if the population decrease has a large component of non-replacement rather than emigration, why did a community choose to die out rather than replace itself…?

          Your counter-example of Monaghan is a special case. It is part of historical Ulster and had and still has a high protestant population. The big changes were further south and in the cities, where the protestant middle class disappeared. My wife’s family (not burnt out, to my knowledge) moved from Cork via Dublin (moving in next to de Valera after the Guinness’s moved out!) to Derry, about as far as one can go.

          3) I am not suggesting Irish independence was a sectarian exercise. You put those words into my mouth. Some of the greatest early supporters of home rule were protestants, in the late 18th C.

          4) You are right to mention Cromwell, and Synapsid is right to mention the settlement of SW Scotland by Catholics before any of the above had happened. I am not suggesting Irish history can be blamed on Europe but many readers of NC may not be aware of the various historical campaigns in Ireland, where European politics was played out in terms of support and of mercenaries. There is not space to recount them all and there are plenty of summaries on wikipedia etc..I felt something needed to be said to rebut the allegation that all violence in all Ireland is all English all of the time. Other villainous nationalities are available.

          1. makedoanmend

            This is what you wrote:

            “And on the other side of the border, parts of Ireland are still recovering economically from driving / burning out the protestant merchant class into exile in the UK and elsewhere, like the French drove out the Huguenots before them.”

            Context is everything.

            When regligion is brought into the conversation in the context of modern Ireland, the implications of sectarianism are inherent.

            The border, largely the brain-child of English politicians of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, is less than 100 years old. As such, the border created in order to establish a “protestant state for a protestant people” is a relatively new way of succinctly defining Ireland, its history and it peoples in that general historical era.

            Prior to that gross division, there were always tensions between the various groupings who vied for the resources of Ireland. In fact, at one time many protestants allied with Irish nationalists in the 18th century to try once again for Irish independence. In the initial learances of catholics from their farms and homes in the North of Ireland in the 17th century, there was a bloody backlash against the protestant settlers intentionally planted upon the their land. (Hence why this episode is call the Plantation in history.) However, as history signifies, the Irish natives (who happened to be mainly catholic but could have been buddists for all that that mattered) ultimately lost. Their history from the 18th century onwards went from very poor to abject.

            Of course various European countries contemplated using Ireland and its dissatisfied peoples through history in the 18th and 19 centuries against the burgeoning English empre. Their efforts, the French espeically, were feeble but encourage the empire to further militarise Ireland; such that Ireland largely became both an agricultural feedlot for the empire as well as an island barracks.


            Monaghan is not a special case. Far from it. I also mentioned Cavan. I could have just as easily mentioned Louth, Leitrim and Donegal – all of which did not carry out any actions against protestants in those counties as they were on the ‘other side of the border’.

            Signifiying a border in the context of Huguenots or any other religion group when such as border didn’t exist (in fact wasn’t contemplated before the late 19th/early20th century) only serves to confuse the situation; distorting context. The simple fact is that no-one was burned out protestants or Huguenots along the border or on the other side of the border.

            There was no border.

            Nor were Huguenots particularly a target as they had aligned largely with the Church of Ireland. There are a huge variations of protestant groups in Ireland, including many independent and very localised “born-again” groups.

            You might as well ask why the Methodists have virtually disappeared as a religion in Ireland. It certainly has nothing to do with religious tensions or the creation of a sectarian situatons for political gain.

            A little snippet of Irish history I gleaned from DuckDuckgo:

            “In the north of Ireland, the Huguenots were mainly an economic influence and are above all credited with the development of the linen industry, having brought from France new skills and techniques. However, this interpretation, as explained in the ensuing ‘Huguenots in Lisburn’ essay, is probably quite wrong.

            Like most exiled communities, the Huguenots in Ireland tried to maintain their traditions and language, but as time went on they became increasingly integrated and the language withered, its last speakers dying out in the early 1800s.”

            By Graham Gargett, professor of French culture and ideas at the University of Ulster, Coleraine campus.



            As for the British conflation – fair enough. The political designation implies more than the English alone. But if one is honest, the simple population numbers combined with the location and concentration of wealth gives the English the star role in that political bloc. Brexit simply confirms that reality in the 21st century.

            But we live in interesting times where religion identification is waning throughout Ireland. It will be interesting to see what new identities are given and adopted by populations in Ireland in order to keep them divided. Of course the huge variety of the immigrant population will make it harder to seperate people by identity blocs. It seems income designation (poor, middle and rich) is the default setting, and it seems to be working a treat.

            1. Anonymous

              Talk of huguenots is gaslighting and misdirection, as are claims of attributing troubles being mostly inter- Irish sectarian divide. The elephant in the room is the oppressive apartheid regime of British rule over Ireland, its chokehold on the land, on civil institutions, its role in the famines, the clearances, its penal laws. Centuries of expropriation, exploitation, and enslavement branded deep into the structural dna of a society cannot be expected to be washed away in mere decades.

      2. Synapsid

        rtah 100,

        I like to look farther back and recall that the Scots came to what became, later, the SW part of what became, later, Scotland…from northern Ireland. That’s why Gaelic is spoken in Scotland and Ireland both.

        Round about the 5th Century AD, it was.

  7. John A

    And if Scotland were to get another referendum and vote for independence and then seek EU membership, there would be another hard border headache to address at Hadrian’s Wall.

        1. Titus

          Maybe with a different ending, or the same? Not sure American Independence could have been one won without the loss of the first one.

    1. .Tom

      There will be a land border that needs some sort of administration but it doesn’t necessarily have to be very “hard”.

      Let say 1) the SNP does a quick deal with the Conservatives that gets the WA through Parliament in exchange for an indyref next year, 2) there’s a general election soon that Johnson wins with a working majority in the Commons, 3) that indyref 2020 votes to leave with a decent margin

      At that hypothetical point Scotland and England would be committed their divorce, although it would take years to fully settle, but Scotland would not yet be committed to full EU membership, indeed it might decide, in the course of EU talks and Scottish politics, that something else would be better, e.g. EFTA.

      At the same time, the UK in the course of its negotiation of its relationship with the EU, slowly comes to terms with just how weak their hand is. So they cede “sovereignty” to trade treaties in order to keep goods and services moving, bringing them closer to the EU than their current English-nationalist posturing would admit.

      I think there’s scope for this to go well for an independent Scotland.

      1. d

        How does the EU nake sure that the UK does charge vat taxes, and customs and EU rules on products? Will they do random checks?

  8. Sam

    I’ve confessed my relative ignorance on these matters before but it seems to me that Johnson’s deal has a huge advantage over May’s from the point of view of a Brexit supporter. May’s backstop covered the whole of the UK and was effectively permanent unless otherwise agreed by the EU, giving the EU a veto and thus control over all future trade negotiations. Johnson has managed both to narrow the scope of the backstop to NI only and also to time limit it to five years. That seems like a very meaningful improvement, again from the point of view of those who think Brexit is a good idea (which seems to comprise a substantial part of the British electorate). Am I wrong?

    1. .Tom

      > Am I wrong?

      Broadly, I don’t think so. This is roughly where May should have gone, given her commitment to a hard Brexit, but she was stymied by the DUP, among other things including dismal political skills.

      But I don’t think it’s quite right to say that this NI backstop is time-limited. Assuming I read the news correctly, the arrangement stays unless the NI Assembly votes it down. Per BBC (link above)

      If the Northern Irish Assembly votes against the provisions, they would lose force two years later during which time the “joint committee” would make recommendations to the UK and EU on “necessary measures”.

      If the Assembly accepts the continuing provisions by a simple majority, they will then apply for another four years. If the deal has “cross-community support” then they will apply for eight years, or until a new agreement on the future relationship is reached if that comes sooner.

      Irish Times refers to those two years as a cooling-off period.

      So, iiuc, the default is for the arrangements to persist. The UK can’t end them. The NI Assembly can but not without difficulty.

    2. Mirdif

      This is not a backstop at all. Instead the provisions of that will apply forever. The backstop is the default and not a backstop. As predicted, the DUP have been chucked under the bus.

      BTW, something very odd is up with this site on Firefox on Windows at least. Typing comments is nearly intolerable as the comment box does not update for many seconds. Currently CPU Usage is at 25% and RAM usage is at 1.5GB and rising even though I’ve for only 3 tabs open and have loaded up Firefox approximately 15 minutes ago. Something is consuming memory quite quickly.

      1. Mirdif

        Looks like I solved the issue by disabling an add-on. Privacy add-ons break far too many sites to be of much use.

  9. Darius

    Ho hum. Nothing but wholesale reordering of the political and economic structure of the UK with wide-reaching implications far beyond its shores.

    1. Trent

      “Nothing but wholesale reordering of the political and economic structure of the UK with wide-reaching implications far beyond its shores”

      That is really what you think is happening? When you have a revolution then i’ll consider what you said to be the truth. Wake me up when that happens.

      1. David

        Revolutions don’t have to mean rioting mobs, tumbrils or military coups. A stealth revolution is already underway, or at least it is if you take into account things such as a breakdown in the modern party system, the incapacity to form a majority government, the rise of nationalist parties, the weakening of the powers of the PM and the executive, the assertiveness of parliament and so on …..wherever we are headed, there’s no return to the politics of the last hundred years.

        1. Summer

          “wherever we are headed, there’s no return to the politics of the last hundred years…”

          It’s got all the traits of politics of the last hundred years as a struggle over returning to the politics of hundreds of years before that.
          For crying out loud, there are still monarchists running around.

  10. The Rev Kev

    Gotta say that I am finding it hard to understand the long term future of Ireland in this kind of a deal. Ireland seems to be in the same position as Schrödinger’s cat but then they have kicked the can down the road by four years when all parties will have to sort out how things will shake out. What they find when that box is opened is up for debate but I will guess that you will not have to open up that particular box to discover that this arrangement is well and truly dead. I can see three possibilities here with Ireland-

    1. The whole thing is of no consequence as Boris Johnston’s deal is dead on arrival in Parliament.

    2. The Deal is passed somehow but the arrangements for Ireland collapses under the weight of its own inconsistencies

    3. The Deal somehow works but in four years time, Ireland finds itself in the same place it was just after the Brexit vote in 2016.

    I think that some music here will help in trying to sort out the most likely result-

    1. FKorning

      Ireland will adapt and do just fine. It was already undergoing a transformation from an agrarian base to a technology one, and as an English-speaking low-tax European nation with access to and from the common market is sure to fare well. The UK will see tremendous difficulty. Home county and Shire Tories dream of a return to the gilded days of land holdings and tenancy rents, but parochial protectionism is not its friend. Only the tax Haven fiscal sector is really eager for a hard brexi, but having demonstrated such bad faith and duplicity, who in their right mind would ever trust these ruffians? trust, of course, being the only sacrosanct criteria to secrecy jurisdictions.

  11. SilverFox

    I think the deal might pass.

    Here is a list of people who didn’t vote for Theresa May’s deal at all, but have said they will vote for Boris’s deal:

    Priti Patel (Con)

    Theresa Villiers (Con)

    James Duddridge (Con)

    Ranil Jayawardena (Con)

    Andrea Jenkyns (Con)

    Andrew Bridgen (Con)

    Ronnie Campbell (Lab – abstained last time)

    Peter Bone (Con)

    David Jones (Con)

    John Baron (Con)

    Andrew Rosindell (Con)

    Suella Braverman (Con)

    Sarah Champion (Lab)

    Lee Rowley (Con)

    Boris has basically told the ERG that if they don’t vote for his deal they’ll lose the whip and won’t be able to stand as Tories at the next election.

    He has also told the 21 no deal rebels that if they vote for his deal, they’ll get the whip back. MPs like Richard Benyon, Nicholas Soames and Stephen Hammond have said they’ll definitely vote for it. Nick Boles who sits as an independent says he’ll vote for it.

    Some of the Labour people are hemming and hawing. They may well keep silent till the vote actually happens to avoid being attacked.

    It’s going to be a nailbiter and may get through by one vote.

  12. DaveH

    The amendments make it very interesting though. The Letwin one particularly. If I were to put my tin-foil hat on, Johnson doesn’t care about a deal, doesn’t care about this deal and doesn’t care about its long-term prospects just as long as it passes. That negates the requirement of the Benn Act to seek an extension as a deal has been passed by Parliament. So it squeaks through, and Johnson just says “We’ll start looking a legislation in the new year”. No extension (as the Benn Act no longer applies), no legislation, the UK crashes out a week on Thursday.

    So the Letwin amendment closes that loophole. And if the votes for that amendment are there, and the tin-foil theory above is right (I’m sure it isn’t, but you never know…) you could potentially see the Government whipping against their own deal because they are not happy to see if voted through with the amendment attached.

    So I reckon predictions on numbers are folly until we know what the final thing being voted upon looks like.

  13. ljones

    Just making a slightly different point here. It seems as though we in the UK are at one of those “moments” again. The previous time it was when the tories held their leadership election, but in reality it was about the question “do we [the tories] pull back or stick (as a right-wing party) or take the next step to become an ultra-right wing party?”. They chose johnson and we now have our answer – they’re an ultra-right wing party. The “normal” conservative party is no more.

    This time the question the UK is asking itself is “do we actually have a functioning democracy?” in the form of the brexit argument. Do liars, cheats and spivs get their commupance or are they now allowed free reign without let or hinderance? Tomorrow we’ll see but hopefully it isn’t the latter.


    1. Bert Schtliz

      I used to ask: who had the most elements of Marx and Engels work in their regimes?: Nazi Germany or Soviet Russia. I chose the former. The stunned look by the “white nationalist” was so heavy, the air could have dripped with water onto a concurrent stove. Never forget the influence(or the fact Engels Family/State book imo was more important than the Communist manifesto and one of Hitler’s favs).

  14. Summer

    Nothing adds up to a “negotiation” over a deal this weekend.
    It’s still about trying to stop Brexit and no-deal.

    1. Anonymous 2

      Well, we will find out tomorrow. The FT is currently forecasting a narrow win for the Government. They could of course be wrong.

      They also report that Corbyn is not threatening any disciplinary action against any Labour rebels. If this is true I cannot understand his thinking. A success tomorrow would give the Tories a major boost in public opinion.

      As an election is considered imminent, unless Labour starts to drag its feet on this, the likely result is a landslide victory for the Tories. As they are proposing to introduce voter suppression measures in the form of an ID requirement, the chances are very high that this leads to at least ten more years of Tory government. Sometimes I think the Left in British politics are their own worst enemies.

      1. Yves Smith Post author

        The FT seems to have changed its tune. It now notes Tory Grandees and people like Hammond look inclined to vote against. Before its whip count didn’t take account of potential Tory defections. The current plot is to require all enabling legislation to be passed before the main act, which will require an extension and give MPs time to kick the tires. This is frankly the minimum responsible thing to do. It may or may not lead to a defeat down the road, but it keeps Parliament from being pushed into something it hasn’t given a proper read.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          It looks like the opposition is getting its act together. It looks like the government will need 20 or more Labour votes, I don’t see them getting that many, unless Corbyn eases off on the whip. I

          If it goes down, then it’s hard to see what options remain except for no deal following a short extension. The EU will surely decide enough is enough and bring down the guillotine.

  15. freddo

    It looks to me as if Boris just totally caved into the Europeans because, ironically, he is afraid of a no-deal exit.
    The Irish are happy. They get a transparent border with the North and the border gets moved out to the North Sea.
    The Europeans are happy. They will negotiate a FTA with Boris. If it doesn’t happen in 12 months or so, the Brits with crash out (with a lot more pain for the Brits than the EU). Remember that Boris is, in fact, terrified of a no-deal exit and the EU knows that.
    The Brits, on the other hand, will be truly stuffed if this deal goes ahead. They’ve solved the biggest problem the EU faces (Northern Ireland) and will get crushed in the trade negotiations. Time to start selling fishing boats.
    A shambles. But Boris doesn’t care. He’s a conman who only focus is on still being in No 10 at sundown. Winning is all that matters. A few, like Philip Hammond can obviously see all of the above.
    This is Empire blowback.
    My guess though is that, after a few years of stumbling around getting poorer, the Brits will knock on the door and asked to be let back inside.

      1. Freddo

        Very true. And the Brits have spent three years showing the EU that during negotiations they fold like a piss-soaked paper bag. “Taking back control” now sounds incredibly hollow. They have, in fact, converted themselves into vassals.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      I can’t possibly see the UK ever being let back in, and even the most passionate pro EU English will be reluctant to wake that sleeping dog. However, a future government may try to ease itself back into EEA/EFTA if possible.

      More likely though is that parts of the UK will re-enter in chunks, NI first, then Scotland and Wales. I think the EU would enjoy the sight of the UK being slowly dismembered in this way.

      1. Freddo

        You’re probably right. I wonder if the EU will throw the status of Gibraltar onto the table before or after the forthcoming election. You want a FTA, that has to be resolved, etc etc. Does any nation on earth have a more revolting traditional elite than the Poms? What a revolting bunch they are. And too many Poms have grown up imbibing their nationalism from world war movies like the Dam Busters. I’d love to see the correlation between Leavers and those who have watched that movie.

        Something though, that has not been brought up enough is that the EU presently has 64 million of its citizens in the UK. Until the UK leaves they have a responsibility to do what they can to protect those citizens, even from their own government.

        Final rant. When Macron applauds your “strategic vision” you know you got taken to the cleaners.

Comments are closed.