Brexit: Time Is of the Essence

Boris Johnson’s plan to meet his promise of getting Brexit done by October 31, had been going vastly better than it should have until his “Super Saturday” special Parliament session went pear shaped.

As pretty much all of you know well by now, his effort to cinch approval of his Withdrawal Agreement fell apart when a Tory-Labour alliance backed the so-called Letwin Amendment, name for Tory grandee Oliver Letwin, to require that legislation enabling the Withdrawal Agreement (most importantly, the so-called Withdrawal Agreement Bill) be passed before the Withdrawal Agreement itself. There were multiple motives for voting for the amendment, aside from opposition to the underlying bill. One was to not be rushed by Johnson into accepting a pig in the poke. Another was that due to ERG treachery or other complications, all the steps needed to make Brexit effective might not take place by October 31.

You also likely know that by virtue of that gambit, Johnson has sent in the required Benn Act letter asking for an extension to January 31…unsigned, and then a note saying this was Parliament’s letter, not his, and then his own letter saying why he thought the EU shouldn’t give the UK an extension.1

The press reporting has been less crisp than it should be on where the state of play is. We’ll unpack this further below, but if you have been following the UK, Irish, or business press, you will have seen that the Government intends to have the Meaningful Vote tomorrow, and it says it has the votes. In other words, it is acting as if the Letwin Amendment is not operative because the actual vote on the main motion didn’t take place.

There is a procedural interpretation that we’ll discuss that suggests that the Meaningful Vote did take place despite the lack of a formal division. And the desire to avoid a division may explain the bizarre spectacle of Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Government’s official point minister, walking out while the debate was still on.

Regardless, in the not-hugely-likely event that Speaker John Bercow rules in favor of the Government on whether it is putting the same question twice in the same session (which is verboten), Letwin or someone alert presumably would propose his amendment which would presumably pass again.

So one can assume the odds are decent that Johnson won’t be able to get his Withdrawal Act approved without getting the enabling legislation, particularly, the Withdrawal Act Bill, passed first. And that process opens a big can of worms.

In addition, timing issues on the EU side means that it now looks highly unlikely that Brexit would be completed by October 31.

Donald Tusk acknowledged receipt of Johnson’s extension request and said he’d confer with EU leaders and get back. Politico reports that EU diplomats were briefed and decided only to meet later in the week. The officials are apparently in no hurry. They will see how things unfold in Parliament before making their move.

Note that The Times, which has the worst record of all UK papers for reporting supposed scoops that were dead wrong, has said the Council is ready to approve the extension with a carve-out in case he gets his deal done by October 31; Politico more plausibly says EU officials are pondering what if any advantage they can get from this mess; Reuters re-reported The Times story but then undercut it:

EU diplomats and officials told Reuters on Sunday that, depending on the next developments in London, extension options range from just an additional month until the end of November to half a year or longer.

Looking at probability helps explain how the Government’s position changed with the success of the Letwin amendment on Saturday. Johnson and his allies thought that all they had to do was cinch the vote on the Withdrawal Agreement and they would be in the clear. But now, as we’ll explain, they have more steps to complete before they get back to a vote on the bill. More steps increase the odds of failure. If you have seven things that have to take place for a procedure to execute, and 90% odds of each completing, the probability of success is a mere 48%.

Johnson, with his gambler’s instinct, did get one thing right, even the results weren’t good for the UK generally (then again, Johnson only represents a bit over 100,000 Conservative Party members). His wager that he could get the EU to agree to a new deal before the EU summit worked out, but not because they capitulated to him but he capitulated to them.

Michel Barnier sensed Johnson’s desperate need for a deal, and succeeded in driving him to accept the “sea border” option in the crunch talks, a position the EU had advanced earlier but was rejected by Theresa May. One wonders how the wheels were greased so that the EU Council signed off on a deal that hasn’t gone through the usual process of being reviewed carefully by the sherpas prior to national leader sign-offy. Was it because they’d authorized the general outline of terms before? Or despite the notorious leakiness of the EU side, perhaps Barnier (or Tusk on behalf of Barnier) had been briefing the national leaders?

Here is why the odds of Johnson getting his Brexit over the line by October 31, and potentially at all, have fallen.

Window for October European Parliament approval about to close. We’ll discuss below in more detail why it looks highly unlikely that Johnson will get the Withdrawal Act voted on tomorrow. The short version is that lots of interests want to attach amendments to the now-prerequisite Withdrawal Act bill, and those have to be debated and voted on, and then the main bill too, before the main event of the Withdrawal Act gets considered. Even before getting to other potential complications, it’s hard to see how that could possibly all get done in a day, particularly with Speaker John Bercow so clearly enjoying putting the Government in its place.

Recall that the European Parliament is the next step in the approval process after the UK Parliament. Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt tweeted that the EU Parliament will roll up its sleeves only after Parliament approves the Withdrawal Agreement:

Only after the European Parliament has signed off will the EU Council formally ratify the deal. And the European Parliament does so in a “plenary” session, meaning a full assembly. As There are plenary sessions are this week, specifically through Thursday, and the next plenary is not until November 13-14. Richard North explains that it is very unlikely that the European Parliament would even be able to call an emergency session, charitably assuming it though it important to indulge the timetable that most suited Boris Johnson’s political ambitions:

What they are not taking into account is that, the week after this week’s Strasbourg plenary (the last period in the run-up to the end of the month), is what we used to call a “white week”, where there were no activities scheduled (so the calendar was blank – i.e. white). It’s now become a politically correct turquoise.

Because of this, most of the 751 MEPs (plus many of their staff – bringing the total to about 2,000) will be at home (or in their constituencies or on various expeditions, which could be anywhere in the world). This would not be like recalling parliament in the UK. MEPs will be spread all over Europe and beyond. There will be flights and hotels to book – difficult at short notice. Many will have previous commitments and they can’t be forced to attend. There could be problems making up a quorum.

Recall that the Government would not only have to have completed the steps for the Withdrawal Agreement to be good to go, but it also has to get Royal Assent. This looks like an impossibly tall order to complete in time for the European Parliament to consider it this month.

If the Withdrawal Act Bill does come first, the Government has to run a new gauntlet. As noted above, the Government is trying to get a clean Meaningful Vote today.

Lewis Goodall of Sky News thinks the Government is in hot water. Mind you, reporters are only as good as their sources, but this sounds plausible:

From the Parliament’s glossary Nodding through/On the nod:

Nodding through is when an MP is counted as having voted because, although they are present on the parliamentary estate, they are unable to pass through the division lobby because they are physically unwell or they have a small child with them.

Decisions made ‘on the nod’ are decisions made with no debate or division (vote). The Chair simply reads out the question to be decided and takes an oral vote. If there are no objections, the question is recorded as having been agreed to.

A decision taken on the nod is generally on a non-contentious question or one whose points of contention have been – or will be – addressed at another time.

The fine points of Parliamentary procedure are well above my pay grade. However, if all of Goodall’s sources say the Government blew it by not having a division on Saturday, it’s a viewpoint worth considering seriously.

Lastly, note Goodall’s point about the odds of a Labour amendment on a “customs union”. We’ve mentioned repeatedly how the press and MPs seem to have no idea of how a customs union differs from the Single Market. Too many of them have treated the term as if it has talismanic properties. Corbyn in particular has even written op eds with incoherent ideas about a customs union. And Barnier has occasionally used the term incorrectly too, helping to feed these misunderstandings. A customs union does not create frictionless trade.

But “customs union” in too many people’s minds seems to equate to a softer Brexit. And if the Labour MPs who would vote for Johnson’s deal would also vote for a customs union amendment as a way to make it better and have the opportunity to do so, then Goodall is right, it blows up Johnson’s deal.

So brace yourselves for a wild few days and maybe longer.

____

1 I’d predicted privately that Johnson would send in his own Benn Act letter undermining the official one, but was told that was too obviously failing to comply with the law……The Guardian quotes a former Cabinet member saying Johnson could be sued, particularly since the Government represented to the Court of Session that it would behave. But will anyone go to the trouble? The EU will give an extension if needed. So the point of a suit would just be to poke Johnson in the eye, as if he cared.

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62 comments

  1. Clive

    I think Goodall is reading too much into the Nodding Through.

    The Meaningful Vote was a vote, but not on a Bill. There was nothing to “become law” about it. Even if it was, the government could simply let this sit there on the shelf and not move it to the next reading stage. But it wasn’t legislation, so there was no need to even do that.

    If another Meaningful Vote is held, this would overwrite a previous Meaningful Vote (and if it was unencumbered by new amendment(s) it would not somehow automatically inherit the Letwin amendment from the previous one). The Speaker is perfectly entitled to decide another, identical, Meaningful Vote isn’t orderly, but the more parliamentary procedural ruses are put in place to delay Brexit, the harder it is, as we are seeing, for the UK Parliament to do anything.

    The same applies to the WA legislation itself. If can be amended, but if it is amended, the government can simply not progress the bill to later reading stages (or not send it to the Lords for example) and it effectively falls away. If the original amendments are later removed, the government can progress it again. Or, if the Speaker decides it is orderly, simply bring everything back again from scratch.

    Shorter, there is nothing that can stop Parliament from undoing previous actions, should it wish to undo them. But there is also nothing a government without a majority can do to force it.

    Reply
  2. DaveH

    The customs union point stems from the days when Labour were terrified of backing Single Market membership because of the freedom of movement issue, which they had to strangle in the early days of the argument. So they had to back something that gave a closer relationship than the Conservatives were offering, and that could only be a customs union. But they are too dug in that even though they now back freedom of movement, it’s a hard political sell to suddenly pivot back to the thing they’ve spend a couple of years trashing.

    Good to see Lewis Goodall get a nod, his reporting of the whole shambolic endeavour has been top-notch.

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  3. Clive

    Someone seems to have finally talked some sense into Remain and got them to stop the court proceedings to query Johnson’s spamming of the EU Council with his various letters:

    https://uk.reuters.com/article/uk-britain-eu-court/scottish-court-asked-to-delay-ruling-on-johnsons-brexit-extension-request-idUKKBN1WZ0P2

    I was wondering when a light would go on for them about this. All Remain had to do was say “we are gratified to see that Johnson did in fact send a letter and request an extension and that the Council advises they have received this and are considering it”. Or some such thing. Making it a live issue before the courts has the effect of denying whether or not an extension was indeed requested from having legal certainty. To state the blindingly obvious, a matter cannot have legal certainty if a lower court or — heaven forbid — the UK Supreme Court is actually hearing a case about it. Remain would have turned Johnson’s junk direct marketing mailing into Schrodinger’s Letter for the Council — would it really be a legally definitive instruction from Johnson to the Council, or not? Everyone would have had to wait until the courts had ruled on the matter.

    I can’t believe they took so long to figure this out.

    Reply
  4. lambert strether

    > Nodding through is when an MP is counted as having voted because, although they are present on the parliamentary estate, they are unable to pass through the division lobby because they are physically unwell or they have a small child with them.

    Who’s the small child? BoJo? [rimshot, laughter]

    Reply
    1. John A

      Lambert, when an MP is unwell or indisposed for some legitimate reason, the so-called pairing system is normally applied, namely each MP has a ‘pair’ on the opposite side of the house, and the paired MP abstains from voting to equal things out. This is how the system is supposed to work. Recently a heavily pregnant Labour MP was indisposed for this reason, and on a narrow but crucial vote, her ‘pair’, voted, and then claimed to ‘have forgotten’ about being paired.

      Boris is defo a small child. And Jacob Rees-Mogg often brings his ‘mini-me’ young son with him, who is about 11 or 12 but identically dressed as his dad, with suit, tie, brief case, spectacles etc.

      Reply
      1. Plenue

        Oh god, just looked up pictures of him and his son. That kid’s life is already ruined; he’s been condemned to a path that is both joyless and stupid.

        Reply
  5. Clive

    I do also wish that the Remain element in the UK Parliament would stop its auditioning for “Britain’s Got Bumptiousness” (I fully intend to defend my title and I’m the clear favourite anyway) and actually find a few days to do something useful like, oh, I don’t know, perhaps pass the essential legislation to reverse the Commencement Order https://news.sky.com/story/barclay-signs-legislation-in-landmark-move-to-stop-eu-law-applying-after-brexit-11788274 and defuse a live landmine which will go off at 23:00 GMT on 31/10/19 unless superseded by an amendment.

    It’s not a huge hill of beans, merely a simple Statutory Instrument (SI) to tweak the existing Act. But unless it’s done, legally, the UK will leave the EU on the currently-specified date. I doubt very much that Jacob Rees Mogg will move the necessary bill in government time. So the UK Parliament can do this, but it’ll need the usual (by now, usual, anyway) hokey-pokey of an Emergency Debate, seizing the Order Paper, draft Bill, debate, vote, Lords, Royal Assent etc. Certainly 2 days of parliamentary time, maybe three or more. I’d get cracking on it now, if I were them. I would have told them so, but they never asked. Besides, Clive doesn’t give advice to nitwits. Why should I?

    Reply
    1. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you, Clive.

      With regard to: “Besides, Clive doesn’t give advice to nitwits. Why should I?” You should to Barclay. He co-ran the MiFID I programme at Barclays and, judging from what I had to pick up from May 2014 onwards, he could do with your help. Also, Bim Afolami, Tory MP and former legal support for MiFID II at HSBC.

      Two of your Legal colleagues, friends and former colleagues of mine at the blue eagle, addressed MPs about Brexit a fortnight ago. The pair left unimpressed and horrified.

      Reply
      1. skippy

        For a visual aid you could use that little fire on 16 October 1834, sure some CGI would enhance the ocular reality over period lithography.

        Reply
        1. bassmule

          Apt!

          “Complaints from MPs about the state of their accommodation had been rumbling on since the 1790s, and reached a peak when they found themselves packed into the hot, airless and cramped Commons chamber during the passage of the Great Reform bill. Unable to agree on a solution for new accommodation, in the end the decision was made for them. The long-overdue catastrophe finally occurred on 16 October 1834. Throughout the day, a chimney fire had smouldered under the floor of the House of Lords chamber, caused by the unsupervised and ill-advised burning of two large cartloads of wooden tally sticks (a form of medieval tax receipt created by the Exchequer, a government office based at Westminster) in the heating furnaces below. Warning signs were persistently ignored by the senile Housekeeper and careless Clerk of Works, leading the Prime Minister later to declare the disaster, ‘one of the greatest instances of stupidity upon record’.”

          The Fire of 1834

          Reply
    2. Titus

      Clive doesn’t give advice to nitwits. Why should I? – Isn’t that what they call consulting? I heard there’s a lot of money in it.

      Reply
      1. Yves Smith Post author

        Haha, that was the defect of my consulting business. I liked working for competent people and they were the ones most inclined to engage me. Unfortunately, competent people are indeed poor clients because they only need consulting once in a great while and they are clear about they want, so they aren’t susceptible to the usual consultant trick of invading at the fingertip and going for the brain.

        Reply
        1. ChrisPacific

          I’ve been in the other position once or twice, where I ended up as a kind of de facto oracle that would be called in frequently to pronounce judgement on things. I never liked it, as it felt like a kind of codependency. I kept trying to teach the staff how to do it themselves. The managers didn’t like that as it took too long, and they were turning them over so fast anyway that it never stuck.

          At the time I could see that if I embraced the oracular role, I could very easily have expanded my influence, and built a kind of unofficial power base as a gatekeeper whose approval must be sought on issues of importance. All around me I saw people doing exactly that.

          Reply
  6. notabanker

    So were there “meaningful votes” before Brexit? Or has this become part of the new world vernacular like “persons of interest” or “first responders”?

    Were Parliamentary votes unmeaningful pre-Brexit? Like the entirety of the US Congress since 1990?

    Reply
    1. DaveH

      It’s a linguistic child of the Brexit process.

      The Government always said that Parliament would get to say its piece on the negotiations, but it wasn’t until the Grieve Amendment (I think) changed the DWA to say it could only be signed off following approval from Parliament.

      Thus giving Parliament the power to reject the DWA and political declaration and rendering their vote on the matter “meaningful”

      Reply
    2. Tony Wright

      I think the most appropriate modern vernacular around Brexit is “collateral damage”. Details yet to be determined.
      Mind you “clusterf…” would give it a good run for it’s money…

      Reply
    1. Clive

      To which I can only add that I’ll give you a は for that が of yours.

      As a frequent mistyper of my an’s instead of at’s, if’s instead of of’s, of’s instead of off’s and even — as a mental block I’d obviously gotten from back in childhood when I first, unwisely you might feel, learned to read and write — my lose’s from my looses (until Lambert realised that I’d never been taught to correctly use the right word in the right situation and finally after 40+ years put me right) I can only sympathise with Yves.

      Who, in case you weren’t aware, has to produce daily as a minimum a complete article to a college-level education standard (unlike the dross which is allowed into our mainstream outlets), often two if it’s a news-heavy day plus all the other ad-hoc things like Links. Single-handed. There’s no subeditor on hand to parse the draft copy and tidy everything up, let alone an editor to give more subtle guidance.

      You’ve missed the Fundraiser for this year, but if I remember without checking, the Tip Jar is still open, into which you can deposit whatever coinage you see fit, maybe with a request — should you want to deposit a sufficiently large enough amount of coinage to buy yourself some say — that it be put towards a copy editor position in this publication.

      Otherwise, it’s also possible to simply make some allowances for the odd typo or grammatical flub now and again, appreciating the particular circumstances and resources available in the miserably uncommercial environment that is publishing these days and how difficult it is to make ends meet.

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      1. John A

        Well said Clive. As an inveterate typer of that when I mean than, and similar typos, it amazes me that someone does not realise that/than is what has happened.

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        1. Amfortas the hippie

          amen.
          golden rule of typos.
          tolerate them graciously, because you’ll make them, too.
          (and with the advent of smartfones, and their tiny, tiny, “keyboards”…often used while walking, etc), why is this even a thing any more.)

          Reply
      2. Titus

        Grammar, really, a system of defining how English should be used based on how Latin should be used based on Victorians who had to my way of thinking had the most confusing way to obfuscate the obvious into the incoherent. Myself I’m all in for linguistics which says spelling, grammar all evolve. Where’s the hippie when we need him?

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        1. Synoia

          I suspect English spelling was a game invented by the Upper Class, to prove how stupid were the other classes.

          “We know how to spell, unlike you ignorant peasants I”

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      3. Pavel

        Hey Clive!
        As a beginning student of Japanese that link to the は vs が article was very useful. What a fantastic resource. ありがとうございます!

        Separately, a great response to that rather ridiculous preceding comment, whose tone made me cringe.

        Reply
      4. Peter

        I will promise to abstain from posting any further comments.

        I am a pensioner with rather limited funds, and we have enough to live comfortably – maintaining a garden, having low heating costs, keeping some fowl – in a country where that is still possible. Not in Canada where we are citizens of.

        Those funds however are fixed, and so are many of the costs piling up each months, surprises like car repairs etc. and payments that are due at the end of the year and which have to be saved for, i.e. insurances and taxes, that it is still a balancing act.

        I understand that it is a privilege to be able to read “for free” many of the blogs, and I would be deprived of much information that I cannot glean from any of the TV news. We have to choose who to “pay” for at each month in “luxuries” with what is left (if anything), and there are some charities that ask for funds that take care of persons or animals that to us need the funds more urgently in our assessment.

        This is not a complaint as we have nothing to complain about, it is just the picture of the reality of living as a pensioner.

        I am sorry that we are not able to donate regular to everyone wo produces the blogs we read on a regular basis, and I hope that you can understand that we cannot be as free disposing of our income as we would like to be.

        Reply
        1. Clive

          No one has to refrain from commenting. All anyone needs to do is have a little appreciation for the immense work which is put in here by the site’s management for not a great deal in return. In doing so, it will doubtless result in an outbreak of understanding and acceptance for when, occasionally and unintentionally, small errors might occur.

          By being charitable (in spirit, not necessarily materially) to them, we will I suspect value and comprehend the charity we’ve received — something of worth, as a thought-provoking and informative source of current affairs reporting, in return for as much or as little as we care to give.

          For me, my family has been dirt poor and it has also been rich. So I do have some experience of living in both worlds. What that had taught me is to cherish the gifts such as this site which don’t depend on having money to enjoy. I can (and do) enjoy the things that only money can buy. But I don’t enjoy them with the same carefree air and sense of delight that I get from things that I would, should I find I no longer have any money, always still be able to obtain.

          Reply
    2. Yves Smith Post author

      You appear not to have noticed that readers usually have more grace than you do when they come across our typos. This is a thinly staffed site and we do not have a copy editor. Fixing.

      Reply
      1. Peter

        Sorry to step on your toes.
        I did not realize this had to be a typo. As I pointed out: I have seen this use of that when than would be the appropriate pronoun in many articles by professional and non-professional writers that I have come to the conclusion this was intentional.

        Reply
        1. Synapsid

          You’ve nothing to apologize for Peter.

          Far too often I’ve had to puzzle out the actual meaning of a sentence that seems to make no sense in context. A “no” left out can change the meaning entirely, for example, and it’s not a rare occurrence. Typos are one thing, that’s fingers on the keyboard; not paying attention to the meaning in the post is something else and should not be shrugged off because there isn’t someone else checking.

          Reply
          1. Yves Smith Post author

            I suggest you attempt putting out as much content as we do with as few people and see how much time there is for “checking”. Hint: I work all the time. I do not have time to read books, see movies, or have any social life. That includes “social business” things like going to or speaking at conferences, or going out to drinks or dinner with important contacts. The only indulgence I have is that I do make time for physical maintenance (seeing doctors and getting some exercise in).

            I guarantee you are incapable of living as Spartan a life as I do. You have no business sitting in judgment, none.

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    3. Darius

      Being your own copy editor is hazardous. I am forced into it on a regular basis. After I’ve spent several hours on something, I can’t reread it as anything more than isolated words. This site doesn’t have the luxury of employing a copy editor. At many publications, it’s just cutting corners.

      Reply
      1. Joe Well

        But when something is extremely time-sensitive, how much copy-editing can really happen anyway, even if you have hired a copyeditor?

        As an almost-one-man-band myself, I have been in the exact same position as Yves of having to send out something NOW only to get a bunch of replies with corrections. There are online copyediting services but there just wasn’t time. It is embarrassing, but it’s one of those instances when you can’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.

        Reply
        1. Yves Smith Post author

          Yes, you have correctly identified a second issue. We have had people volunteer to copy edit from time to time. Not only to they not work our hours (late night/overnight for mainly AM posts), but they’d need to be made editors in WordPress, meaning we’d need to trust them not to make a mess of our site by accident or design. And dealing with anything but the most obvious of corrections means going back to the post author, putting more demands on writers’ scarce time.

          Reply
          1. Joe Well

            Just to give people an idea, I found this gig economy copyediting service and they promise turnaround in 2 hours, which for most things here would be too slow. Not to mention it adds an extra step.

            Reply
  7. makedoanmend

    Referring to para 13 of this article regarding the quick acceptance of the customs Irish sea border by all 27 EU member states last week, I seem to remember that ex-PM May’s initial deal was trending to some variation of this scenario, (I may be misremebering) but that the DUP scuppered that idea. I also think it is safe to assume that the EU had fully explored the ramifications of such a scenario because the UK had broadcast their ‘red-lines’ very early during negotiations. Given the UK’s red-lines and the desire to square circle of Ireland’s need to maintain some semblence of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) and pretence of peace, it is possible that most European countries had already been briefed on the ramification of a customs sea border involving the North of Ireland. In othe words, member states already have a good idea of how the currently changed WA works on a broad basis.

    The changes made last week to the customs sea-border really only affected Ireland in the long term. I’m sure most EU countries, fed up to their back teeth with Brexit, knew that Ireland would bear the burder if the WA agreement deteriorated in a few years time. Given that Taoiseach Varadkar was fine with the agreement, I tend to think the other members kind of said: ‘yeah ok lets get this done and let the Irish deal with a hard border when or if it happens.’ This scenario is beneficial to the EU mainland because:

    1. The EU can’t be blamed by anyone (i.e. the UK) for not going the extra mile to meet the UK’s wishes and
    2. If a hard border descends on Ireland and the Irish complain in a few years time, the rest of the EU can simply say that Taoiseach Varadkar and Ireland had actually formulated this plan. Don’t look for any more help, sympathy or financial assistance.

    Le Figaro’s (French newspaper) seems to succinctly capture the current European mood after the UK Saturday never-ending saga: “ En décidant de ne rien décider” … they decided to decide nothing.

    Paywalled: (www.lefigaro.fr/international/brexit-apres-le-report-du-vote-a-westminster-le-royaume-uni-replonge-dans-l-incertitude-20191019)

    I tend to think that mainland Europe is beginning to think that Brexit is an indulgence; an over indulgence without which Europe can do and which it never wants to repeat.

    Reply
    1. PlutoniumKun

      My understanding is that a small team of Irish, British and EU officials had been working for some time on an Irish Sea border proposal as a sort of Plan B that could be presented to politicians as a last minute ‘compromise’. I think this is backed up by reports that Barnier saw it as an objective to drive Johnson to the conclusion that he had to shaft the DUP.

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      1. makedoanmend

        Fair enough…however, do you get a sense Taoiseach Varadkar went a bit further on concessions than was originally contemplated? I couldn’t help noticing that Tainiste Coveney went very quiet during last week, and the Irish Times (champions of the FIRE bridage) weren’t exactly over enthusiastic in their assessment of the deal.

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        1. PlutoniumKun

          It’s hard to know – I suspect that he did give away more than expected, I imagine Coveney was anxious that the buck would not stop on his desk if it all went wrong. Varadkar is personally far more keen on some sort of a deal than Coveney, his political future depends on it.

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    2. PlutoniumKun

      Just to add, I wonder if senior Tories are in such a bubble that they genuinely don’t realize that they are all making such fools of themselves.

      Reply
      1. makedoanmend

        Hard to know? I tend to believe that they have fallen into the trap of believing their own rhetoric. At one time the rhetoric was used to bamboozle the general public. As time has passed and they have embedded their new economic agenda via their very effective rhetoric, they themselves became to believe their own bs. It gives them a distorted sense of power. But that domestic power won’t necessarily tranlate into international power.

        Also, they believe they were born and educated to rule the roost, and they largely do that in their own country. Politics among the general population (just like many/most other countries) isn’t really a consideration beyond consuming the MSM stories and voting once in a while. I’d say there is a positive feedback loop now firmly established where the elites are largely speaking to themselves via the MSM and other mediums. They feed the MSM the stories they want told, but they also consume their own stories.

        Tbh, I get a sense that the entire spectrum of the UK political establishment is having a hard time adjusting to what is happening. I think the upper 10% is especially having a hard time adjusting, and I’m not really talking about the remain-leave split alone. It seems they are not able to parse their power relationship to the EU or to the larger world, and they really can’t admit to changing power relations because they tell or ‘suggest’ to the general population that the UK’s power position is greater than it actually is. I mean, who’s going to admit they are not as powerful as they claim to be. Nobody really.

        It seems both the Tory and Liberal Parties* problems are pretty spread throughout the West these days. It just happens that Brexit is exposing the dirty laundry in the UK.

        *I leave UK Labour out if it because they seem to have largely left themselves out of it. Unfortunately. I mean, when Labour is contemplating having the DUP as even temporary allies, you know the world has been turned upside down, and twisted 12 months to May.

        Reply
        1. PlutoniumKun

          I’d agree very much, we are witnessing old assumptions and elite structures fracturing in real time, I think a lot of people think they are in charge of the process, but will get a very rude shock when they find out they’ve released forces they don’t understand and can’t control.

          Reply
      2. larry

        PK, you may be interested in this article about Bristol and the rich students who go there and make life difficult for the ordinary residents by their obnoxious late night loud parties. It is about one particular steet. I quote a comment by a Bristol Labour counsellor.

        “Bradley has an interesting angle on the problem, having studied the impact of undergraduates’ class on their life at university.

        Her theory is that many of the young people who cause the racket in Redland are from public schools. “There are a lot of rich, entitled young people. They think they own the city, they think it is their right to occupy the street.””

        I wish I could say that this beggars belief, but I am afriad it doesn’t. Here is the link: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2019/oct/18/its-party-central-the-bristol-residents-fed-up-with-noisy-student-neighbours.

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        1. larry

          What she says fits with the analysis of this sort of syndrome produced by the boarding school system by the psychotherapist and former boarder, Nick Duffell, in his Wounded Leaders: British Elitism and the Entitlement Illusion: A Psychohistory.

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          1. PlutoniumKun

            I think that mob definitely have a monstrous sense of entitlement. But normally these types have a strong sense of their own position within the hierarchy of the elites – they all want to hobnob at Davos and have their cosy little post-politics jobs. This is why senior politicians around the world all seem to get on so well with each other when they meet – they all see themselves as the same class. What I find fascinating is that the current clique of Tories seem quite content to exclude themselves from these circles – I wonder to what extent this is deliberate or an outcome of processes that they themselves have no control or understanding about.

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            1. larry

              Thanks for this, PK. Your final sentence is rather thought-provoking. I don’t have a clue which of the two possibilities you mention may be the right one. If the latter, I wonder what these processes might be.

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    3. Math is Your Friend

      In fact, the EU wanted to apply the backstop only to Ireland, for as short a time as possible. It was the UK that insisted on a whole of UK backstop.

      Then the Brexit squad started claiming that the EU would use it to trap the UK in a deal with the EU, by not allowing the backstop to end.

      The EU never wanted the all UK backstop because it gave a non-member some member-like trade advantages and could cause disruption to the single market, as well as encouraging others to ask for the same thing.

      The EU wanted the bulk of the UK treated in all ways as a third party state, as soon as possible.

      It is only the need for a trade and transportation issue on the island to avoid encouraging another blow-up among the Irish that leads the EU to ask for a backstop at all.

      Reply
  8. David

    Something I haven’t seen much discussed is that Johnson’s antics over the weekend must have killed off any lingering sympathy for him as a member of the world’s most exclusive club, that of national leaders. May enjoyed, perhaps, some reluctant sympathy for the mess she had got herself into, but Johnson can now expect none. Not only does that mean that the 27 won’t do anything to help him, I think they’ll be happy to do what they can to undermine him. They will resist at all costs the risk of becoming embroiled in UK domestic politics.
    Indeed, Johnson’s behavior has been so extreme, I’m starting to wonder if he’s on some kind of suicide mission, looking to present himself as a victim of foreign manipulation, the better to emerge in a few years later as the saviour of the nation.

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    1. PlutoniumKun

      It’s extraordinary to see how reckless the Tories have been with their reputation worldwide. I wonder to what extent they are aware of just how much long term damage they’ve caused to the UKs reputation. The US is big and rich enough to get away (to some extent) with having a buffoon in charge, the UK is not.

      Because of the terrible UK media, I’m not sure most people in Britain are aware of what a joke they’ve become worldwide. It will take many years to repair this damage.

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      1. Pavel

        The Tories have indeed made utter fools of themselves and in fact given how things are going may be responsible for the breakup of the UK (a good thing IMO as a supporter of Scottish independence). However I think the various stop-Brexit antics of MPs and Bercow’s blatant lack of impartiality are going to have long term effects as well. I fear there will be a virtual civil war for years to come. And we need only look at the Gilets Jaunes, the Hong Kong protesters, and most recently the Catalans in Barcelona to see how quickly things can get very violent and scary.

        Very sad and troubling times. David Cameron has a lot to answer for.

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      2. Anonymous 2

        You are indeed right.

        Time for the Colonel to intervene, I suggest.

        ‘Right, that’s it. I am stopping this now. This sketch has become far too silly’.

        (After Monty Python).

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    2. vlade

      Of course, they are all (the leaders) expecting that having a bufoon in charge is a temporary glimps and a normal programming will be resumed shortly.

      Which it may, or may not. As history tells us, even autocratic countries can have long-ruling bufoons if they are lucky enough. Democracies would be, IMO, even more suspectible.

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    3. d

      Oh oh. Trump will have to go deeper into the Muck, after all as a stable genius he can’t let anyone out do him. Unless they are dictators of course

      Reply
  9. Mattski

    If Johnson is forced to call an election AND has to defend his terrible deal is there a possibility that Labour may look like its failure to lead all along might have paid off? That close scrutiny will reveal what misery Brexit will bring and result in big Labour gains?

    I have all along argued that Labour should be arguing its vision for the country, doing the brick by brick-laying necessary to build grassroots support for serious change, and noting how hard it is for Corbyn, with his own house very divided, to do this. . .

    I am a little less interested in the (admittedly fascinating) blow by blow and more intent on what this means for development of a conscious and mobilized poor and working class. . .

    Reply
    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Yes, it would be interesting if the Tories make such a hash of things that Labour’s inaction and incoherence turned out not to be a negative in the long run.

      Unfortunately, Brexit will dominate UK politics for a very long time, for ten years if it goes forward (it will take that long to restructure the economy to operate on a free trade agreement basis and see the fallout) and God only knows how long if it gets undone (the Brexiteer bitterness and revenge strategies could burn out in five years or continue to fester).

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    2. PlutoniumKun

      There is a possibility that Labour could benefit, but I think they are under a delusion that somehow Brexit will be ‘over’ and they can benefit by moving on to concrete issues. But unfortunately this mess will continue to dominate politics for years to come – I think it will suck Labour into the same mire the Tories find themselves in.

      But having said that, I think its a fools task to make any predictions on the direction of British politics for the next few years. Pretty much anything can happen.

      Reply
  10. Eustache de Saint Pierre

    Off topic perhaps but in term s of history rhyming I came across this article by historian James Dalymprole regarding the birth of multinational corporations, which for the East India Company began at the time Shakespeare was writing Hamlet – this paragraph caught my eye :

    ” In the course of this, in what seemed to many of its wisest minds as an act of wilful self-harm, the English had unilaterally cut themselves off from the most powerful institution in Europe, so turning themselves in the eyes of many Europeans into something of a pariah nation. As a result, isolated from their baffled neighbours, the English were forced to scour the globe for new markets and commercial openings further afield, and to do so they had no compunction but to use, for the first time in history, unbridled corporate violence “.

    Very good article of comparison IMO between the EIC & the now of globalised corporatism. The EIC it seems invented lobbying & practically owned Parliament with the likes of Clive buying rotten boroughs. When it all finally fell apart after the fist too big to fail got bailed & massacres in India, attorney general Edward Thurlow said :

    ” Corporations neither have body to be punished nor soul to be condemned, they therefore do as they like”

    https://dnyuz.com/2019/08/30/lessons-for-capitalism-from-the-east-india-company/

    Reply
    1. Buckeye

      William Dalrymple is an excellent historian and observer of human relations. I STRONGLY recommend people read his books “The Last Mughal” and “Return of a King” (about Britain’s Afghan war in 1839). You see our modern issues writ large in these books.

      Reply
  11. Eustache de Saint Pierre

    I totally agree & have read ” Return of a King ” which i found astonishing in the true scale of that disaster of which the reality is little known or acknowledged in Britain. It explained to me why my Dad who was a military history buff once said that the event was more ridiculous than the film ” Carry on up the Khyber “.

    I am awaiting the arrival of ” Koh i Noor ” which judging by the talk he & his co-writer who helped translate previously ignored Moghul texts gave which is on youtube, promises to be a factual tale in a GoT vein. I notice I got his Christian name wrong which is usual for me for some strange perhaps dyslexic reason.

    Reply

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