Brexit and Inertia

I’m having to reconsider my fondness for an aphorism from Dune: “Then, as his planet killed him, it occurred to Kynes that his father and all the other scientists were wrong, that the most persistent principles of the universe were accident and error.” Based on Brexit and Covid-19, inertia needs to be added to that list.

What happened this week on the Brexit was sufficiently predictable that the UK press treated it as a secondary story. Michel Barnier and David Frost had Brexit talks this week. Nothing changed on the big substantive issues, the “level playing field” which means not allowing the UK to undercut EU standards on goods it sells to the EU, and fisheries, which is proving to be more intractable than some had assumed early on. The EU has at least said it gets it gets less fish from UK waters, but no fish isn’t acceptable.

Things are so bad that the UK had to point out that the negotiations had not broken down. Informal talks are set to continue next week. But the UK hasn’t just missed Boris Johnson’s much bruited about end of July deadline. Barnier, who has made a point of being measured, deemed the odds of reaching an agreement as “unlikely”. Frost was more upbeat, confirming the two sides are far apart but maintaining it was still possible to come to an understanding by September.

It’s also possible for me to win the Lotto….assuming I buy a ticket.

The UK actually made a concession it was going to have to swallow regardless to get a deal done: that of not having a series of sectoral mini-deals but an overarching deal. The UK is now willing to enter into a biggish agreement but still wants separate pacts on aviation, air transport, and civil nuclear co-operation. The EU also allegedly conceded on the ECJ not having any authority over UK domestic matters. Yet Frost oddly whined again that the UK wanted a Canada-style deal and why wasn’t the EU prepared to give that, when the EU has already made “What about ‘no’ don’t you understand” equivalent statements on that topic.

Despite the UK putting a more positive official spin on the state of play than the EU, the leaks tell another story. The Telegraph reported on Wednesday that the Government anticipates the UK will trade on WTO terms, as in not reach an agreement. The next day, it reconfirmed: UK to offer emergency Brexit talks, with ‘EU to blame’ if trade deal collapses: The Telegraph has revealed that Government assumption is now that Britain will have no trade deal in place when transition period ends.

Oh, and remember that great UK-US trade deal that was going to render a pact with the EU moot….despite the fact the US would never account for as much UK trade as much closer Europe? That agreement isn’t going so well either. From the Financial Times on Wednesday:

The UK government has abandoned hopes of reaching a trade deal with America ahead of the US presidential election in November, with British officials blaming the Covid-19 pandemic for slow progress…

Last September government officials told The Sun newspaper that a deal would be wrapped up by July 2020. “The political will is there now on both sides to do the deal by July,” one said at the time. “It’s a great win for us.”

Even in January this year aides were still confident that there could be an outline agreement by midsummer.

But last month there was a shift in the government’s language, with [international trade secretary] Ms [Liz] Truss telling MPs the government was “not going to rush into a deal and there is no deadline”.

Even though Covid-19 is a convenient scapegoat, the article makes clear there are serious issues to be resolved, like US agricultural good access to the UK market (no chlorinated chicken!) and protecting the NHS (no US privatization). This is consistent with what we’d warned. Yes, the US regularly does bi-lateral trade deals in less than a year….because it dictates terms and allows for negotiations only at the margin. Donald Trump was almost licking his chops when the talked about giving the UK a “great” trade deal. He read Johnson as in need of a fast deal to create the appearance of momentum, which would give the US even more leverage. But British farmers and MPs, who have to approve the deal, made a stink. And someone on the UK side apparently ran some numbers. Again from the Financial Times: “Leaked government forecasts suggest a trade deal with the US could benefit UK economic output by about 0.2 per cent in the long term.”

How about Japan? A note in the Financial Times on the 14th said the stipulated timetable meant the two sides had only 2 1/2 weeks to settle the main terms if they were to get done by year end. Japan wants tariff cuts, particularly zero on cars, an investment protection provision and a digital trade agreement. Japan is clearly using the UK’s sense of urgency to Japan’s advantage. From the Financial Times:

The deal will also be conspicuous for what is not in it. [Lead negotiator Hiroshi] Matsuura said the shortness of time meant both sides would have to “lower their ambitions”. In practice, that is likely to mean there is nothing much in areas of UK trading strength such as legal and financial services. It will certainly mean zero quotas for UK exports in sensitive areas such as agriculture — it is up to London to argue with the EU for a share of its existing quota for barley or cheese. “Why should we give now to a country that doesn’t have real agricultural access in Japan?” said a participant.

The ace in its hand, Japan believes, is rules of origin. “With 28 countries, the rules of origin worked very much in favour of the 28,” said a participant. Under the EU-Japan deal, parts originating anywhere within the EU counted for the purpose of reduced tariffs; unless Japan agrees that can continue then, for example, Scotch whisky in a bottle from France might not count as a UK product. “The UK has a very integrated supply chain with Europe,” said a participant. Tokyo is betting that London will want that to continue.

PlutoniumKun has said Brexit has a 1914, sleepwalking into a disaster feel to it. I can’t comprehend how the powers that be in the UK are so complacent. The UK business community was evidently too cowed to speak up and seems to regard itself as still powerless. The public appears to have woken up to the fact that the miasma of what Brexit might be has coalesced into the Ultra’s version, which polls now show gets 60/40 opposition. Yet the Government doesn’t care, secure in the Fixed Term Parliament Act difficulty of ousting it. And is Johnson unconcerned about his legacy? Overly confident in some sort of Singapore on the Thames personal enrichment opportunity? So self deluded that he still believes what he is selling?

We commented some time ago on Brexit being a game of chicken. The UK is now past the point where it can change its trajectory. The best it can pull out of this mess is a bare bones tariffs and quotas deal, and that will only soften the shock a bit.

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  1. PlutoniumKun

    I can’t really add anything to this, the way in which Brexit has simply disappeared from everyones agenda is striking. I think Covid has shoved everything to one side, so somehow Brexit just looks like a minor issue to everyone except for the small handful of people directly dealing with the issue. Its more or less dropped off the media agenda and even my Brexit obsessed English friends have stopped talking about it.

    I think there is still an assumption within circles in London that the EU will blink, and they’ll get a good enough deal that will allow them to do a reasonable deal with the US. This seems entirely their fixation – if the UK government was really serious about looking for leverage they would not have tied themselves so firmly to Trump over China. They must know by now they will not get much from Japan or India any other major Asian country.

    One issue of course is that for many London insiders a bad deal with the US is not ‘bad’. Its actually what they want. ‘Sell off the NHS? Bring it on! Chlorinated chicken? Hey, I can afford organic imports, I don’t care.’ It used to be a joke that the UK was the 51st State, but in many ways, this is exactly what they want, just a State which can use its nominal independence to cut taxes and create little mini-HK’s around its coast and in the City of London.

    I also wonder if Cummings and so on have suddenly realised the power of a fiat currency. Right wingers may not be MMTers by conviction, but they can be MMTers through action. Its assumed they want austerity – and they do want it for the poor – but they may well gamble that opening the floodgates of cash in a post-Covid, post Brexit environment could provide a liftoff for the type of England they want (I say ‘England’, as it seems to me that they’ve already given up on Scotland, and will happily cut the cord as soon as they can).

    Quietly, the Northern Ireland has been reassessing its options. NI will have its own Covid tracker soon, before the rest of the UK. It’s the one developed in the Republic. A number of NI politicians have realised that their main access airport is Dublin, not London, in particular in post Covid times when everyone wants to avoid hubs. There seems to be slow realisation, now that the DUP gets weaker, that some sort of semi-joint authority, one foot in and one foot out of the UK, is their best option, if it can possibly be fudged (I’d never underestimate the ability of Brussels and London to create some sort of ambiguous fudge to help out NI).

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      The big problem with the UK deciding to run big deficits is that this will almost certainly tank the pound when the UK is also likely to see its trade deficit rise due to non-tariff trade barriers. And exactly what can the UK export more of with a cheaper pound? There’s nothing to scale up quickly (tourism would normally get a shot in the arm, but not with Covid) and not much even in the intermediate term. So what you get is inflation due to higher cost imports, particularly food and energy.

      1. PlutoniumKun

        Its beyond my pay grade to make any macro predictions, but given that the BoE is already happily taking on HMGovt debt in all but name, the BoE modellers may have calculated that in a world heading for depression there is far more scope than before for non-inflationary cash injections. I would have thought that the Pound becoming a safe haven (especially if the Euro gets hit with Italian bank crashes) and so becoming grossly overvalued is at least as great a perceived risk. Both Cummings and Boris are by nature risk takers, I would have thought they might see it as an opportunity for a big roll of the dice, and plenty in the City might support it. The Chancellor I’m sure will do what he’s told.

        1. Jabbawocky

          I agree with this reading. I think that like Trump, Boris only cares about re-election. If he thinks he can buy that, then he will try.

      2. John A

        What Britain can potentially export more of is fish, especially the kind that is sold whole, that British people don’t eat, if the fishing waters are closed to the EU. However, French fishermen have already threatened to block fish exports from Britain in such a scenario, and maybe even blockade Calais, making lorry queues from England stretch all the way to the M25 and London, perhaps.

      3. Eric

        The UK can also export labour with a tanked pound. IMHO, with brexit there’s a concern that international employers will restaff their operations in Ireland or in Europe. If Sterling hits parity on the dollar, the UK talent market becomes far cheaper than the equivalent in New York or San Francisco. When i was at a City based employer, the HR exchange rate for the equivalent position was 1.5 to New York.. If you assume that health insurance in the US vs higher holiday and employment taxes in the UK more or less balance out, there’s still a substantial labour arbitrage by decentralising staff outside of the US.

        1. PlutoniumKun

          The problem is that this is difficult, if not impossible to achieve without a services agreement, not to mention the vast tangle of EU regulations around data and storage. If the EU felt it was losing out, it could end any such strategy by the UK with the stroke of a pen, or even the absence of the stroke of a pen.

          1. Eric

            That’s true if you’re directly providing services to the Continent, but app development, marketing, finance, HR etc can be done from pretty much anywhere. Even if you think about something like asset management, it would be challenging to force equity research teams to physically relocate to Europe. Or if you’re a widget maker, do you have your product design team for the EMEA market based in New York, London, or Paris / AMS / FRA?

            1. d

              while in theory those could be done anywhere, all of them will be required to follow local laws. which becomes a problem if you arent monitoring every thing that changes. and if the governments are slow to even let you know (since you are in a ‘foreign’ country….). but the developer might be able to do it any where easier than most jobs. but it will lead to large project management problems, plus UI issues because that has a lot of local customs components…can be done…but not work well every where

      4. Clive

        As for energy, in local currency terms natural gas (to take one example) is only just off the floor

        Either natural gas prices would have to double again (hard to see how that’s going to happen at least until the medium with global demand suppressed and not likely to move significantly upward soon and production cuts laggy as producers, especially low cost ones, happy to try to go for volume at the expense of price) or sterling devalue 50% against the dollar (well outside the range of even the most dramatic currency devaluations ever seen, these are in the 10-20% zone) — or some combination of both — to bring energy costs merely back to January levels.

        And U.K. net import dependency across all energy types is only 35% of demand now ( chart pg. 11) so any input price increases will be blunted anyway due to (with increasing supply from domestic renewables) lessening external (i.e. non-local currency) sources.

        Falling domestic demand due to energy efficiency increases and, more materially, increased domestic supply sources from renewables, has made sterling devaluation calculations a different set of considerations compared with 10 or even 5 years ago.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          You need to look at gross flows, not net to determine the impact of a cheaper pound.

          And if you are low income or suffering from a decline in income due to Covid, it isn’t much comfort that that the UK is using more renewables if your energy bill still goes up. The UK still imports petrol for cars since North Sea gas is pretty tapped out and I assume most people own a car, for starters.

          1. Clive

            For a domestic consumer, commodity input prices make up a small percentage of the end product (which is, for example, natural gas distributed to the consumers’ premises or petrol prices at the pump).

            For the former, while natural gas input prices have halved (or more, it’s more like a 60% fall), the cost of transportation, distribution and the capital costs of a national grid are a much bigger determinant. I was paying 2.9 pence per kilowatt hour for gas until April. When natural gas prices fell, I signed a new contract for the next year, but I still pay 2.2 pence per kilowatt hour. The fall in wholesale natural gas prices was passed on (mostly) but there was no fall in gas distribution or grid capital costs of course so my monthly bill only went down by £20 or so (from £105 a month to £85 a month). If you are in poverty, a twenty pound a month reduction in your costs may have been helpful but it’s not really going to make a significant difference to your situation. And any rise due to a theoretical sterling devaluation is merely going to put you back where you were in March. And we were paying nearly 3.5 pence per kilowatt hour a year or so ago when natural gas prices spiked.

            So for the poorest households, energy costs are already varied in a way which may help or harm their situation a little anyway due to other factors which are nothing to with leaving the EU.

            For a fuel-poor household, being able to update their inefficient boiler from a 60-70% efficiency unit to a 90+% efficiency unit would have a far bigger on their impact than energy costs than either a halving of or doubling of natural gas prices. It is lack of money to spend on capital outlays like energy efficiency measures which is the biggest impediment to ending fuel poverty.

            For petrol (gasoline), it’s important to remember that in the U.K., unlike the US, the tax take on petrol and diesel is by far the biggest component of pump prices. The oil price has gyrated hugely over the past few years (it’s gone from $30 a barrel to over $80 and back down again). But for a U.K. consumer the effect on pump prices has, like natural gas as paid for on your domestic utility bill, barely moved by out of a 30% windows across the entire range of both ups and downs. The U.K. government could halve U.K. gas prices at the pump or more simply by cutting fuel duty taxation and VAT on fuel.

            So poor households have suffered cost increases (and benefited from cost savings) due to commodity price changes in recent years anyway which are nothing to do with the EU membership question. And as I’ve shown, a doubling of oil price costs barely moves pump prices up by 20%, and natural gas prices collapsing to a third of their previous highs saves an average household a couple of hundred pounds a year, tops. Sterling would need to devalue by 30-40% to merely put household energy costs back where they were here at the start of the year, never mind increase them, due to the low proportions that commodity input prices make up of the retail consumer energy price.

            Shorter: the retail energy consumer does not pay the commodity cost. Or anything resembling it.

            If you’ve lost your job due to COVID-19, an extra tenner to fill your tank or on your monthly utility bill is the least of your problems. There’s nothing about EU membership that will help fix this.

            1. Karl Greenall

              Could I also point out that in the UK, tax is levied at various points in the petroleum refining process so when, at the end of the chain,Value Added Tax (VAT) is calculated, we end up basically paying a tax on taxes!
              The same applies to our national beverage, real ale.
              What I really need is a hybrid car that can run on Best Bitter!

    2. Otto

      Scotland, doesn’t understand MMT, so among the other wonders of the EU I hope they are playing attention to Italy and Spain and the meaning of hopeless. Still, EU frugalitst might see a kin in Scotland, which is like being the bride of Satan but hey, democracy. Trade some fish for better schools for some such.

  2. TC

    PlutoniumKun has said Brexit has a 1914, sleepwalking into a disaster feel to it. I can’t comprehend how the powers that be in the UK are so complacent.

    Or, perhaps:

    1. UK is hoping (correctly, I think) that there will be tremendous pressure going forward on the breakup of the EU via countries such as Italy and Spain, and this will provide them some advantage to delay if possible–at least if it believes that it can enter into a reasonably good trade deal with the US first (this part is likely a pipe dream).

    2. UK understands that there is little need to rush into an agreement with a union that is strangling itself with internal austerity. Although the UK does not have a strong hand, it is difficult to see how entering into a mutual suicide pact is much more palatable. To whom, exactly, does the EU hope to export all of its goods? The UK has some advantages. For example, it is currently one of the few countries in the world that acts as a source of demand, and this provides them some leverage. It also actually has at least the semblance of a military at a time when the US increasingly wishes to withdraw from its post-WWII obligations in Europe.

    1. Yves Smith Post author


      Regarding 1, we’ve written that the Eurozone is a roach motel. Please go read our extensive discussion from 2015 on the operational obstacles to introducing a new currency. Even merely designing and printing notes, refitting ATMs to carry two currencies, and distributing it takes a year. And that’s not allowing for the time to code all domestic bank systems to be dual currency.

      As soon as any plan to exit the Eurozone gets out, everyone with an operating brain cell with withdraw their funds from domestic banks to avoid forced redenomination into a new currency. That bank run will cause a collapse of the entire banking system.

      And you can’t redenominate before the banking system is able to handle the new currency. That will take a minimum of three years and more like five. The introduction of the Euro took three years of planning and eight years of execution to come off without a hitch. And there was tons less bank legacy code back then.

      Non Eurozone countries like Sweden could exit. But no way Italy or Spain.

      2. Do you even understand the topic at hand? The UK has exited and is not subject to EU budget rules. Agreeing to a trade deal has nada to do with austerity. And the UK has to trade with the EU. Physical proximity is far and away the biggest determinant of trading volumes. No large economy is remotely close enough to play the role the EU does for the UK.

      1. eg

        Concerning #1, hasn’t Warren Mosler made a proposal about introducing a parallel currency?

        1. d

          but as she pointed out, its not just creating a currency that will be a problem, just the IT changes will take years to plan for, and then execute (with the understanding that most major IT projects fail….mostly because there isnt enough understanding of what needs to be done to accomplish the over all task….plus there is also the political problem….with in the business….who will always want the latest shinny thing..because…..and over look the fact it doesnt support well what they want to do..)…and failure of that project becomes a TBTF project…unless TPTB sccept the fall back to the euro as acceptable…then there is the …..acceptance of the new currency…by others…good luck with that

  3. NIx

    Given the latest craven vote by MPs to remove their right to debate any trade deal, or to even know what is in it, I suspect that chlorinated chicken (and lower food standards in general), as well as the NHS, are very much on the table.

    1. paul

      That was what the votes against the amendments explicitly put on the table.
      As for becoming the 51st state, forget that, we’ll be the second puerto rico.

      1. ScottS

        The job of 51st state is already filled by Canada.

        Ooh, what if the US, Canada, and UK get the band back together? Who doesn’t like a reunion tour?

        Add Oz as a charismatic front-man.

  4. The Rev Kev

    It never gets any better, does it? Even after all these years of kicking the can down the road and deadline after deadline. Well now Boris & Co. have kicked the can into a cul-de-sac so crunch time is coming. Have this crew shorted the UK for next year in their financial positions? I suspect at time that it’s modern economists running the negotiation process as in “Assume a Brexit Trade treaty.” If history is to judge Boris Johnson and his cohort, perhaps at best they will say-

    “Never was so much stuffed up by so few that effected so many.”

    There will be no Brexit treaty by next year. The UK will bust out with nothing and be in a world of hurt. And with the Coronavirus crippling all efforts to relaunch the world economy, it will not get better anytime soon. And this crew will not try to make it any better.

    1. d

      you would almost think that hard brexit was the plan…..the rest was just trying to cover that … why do they bother to continue to ‘negotiate’ …when they know that nothing will happen…

  5. David

    It’s been a rule in politics for the last century or so that the supply of politics typically exceeds the ability of governments (and for that matter the media) to cope with. There’s only a certain amount of political space, and much of it is filled by Covid, with issues of party management, internal jealousies, statues being destroyed and dreams of summer beaches taking up the rest. In that context, Brexit is just too big and complex a problem to get your head around, the more so when you are a politician selected for loyalty and not much else, confronted by a problem that is massively more complex than you ever imagined. In the absence of any instant decision to make, and in the absence of any long term (or even medium term) strategy, the consequence is often inertia, but also a kind of desperate paralysis, as when you are confronted with a herd of charging buffalo, with no way out. When disaster appears inevitable, and you can’t do anything to stop it, there’s no incentive to move.

    For what it’s worth, I doubt if there’s much real political interest in the mechanics of post-Brexit. For some of those rudely awakened from the dream that Brexit equalled Job Done, there is the replacement comforting belief that in a few months it will all be over and they can worry about something else.

    I’m inclined to agree with PK about the Euro: it hasn’t been much covered in the Anglo-Saxon media, but the EU summit recently effectively just managed to avert disaster over how to cope with the economic consequences of Covid. Macron has been singing the agreement’s praises, but the reality is that it doesn’t solve the problem, especially for Italy. It’s not clear to me exactly how, in practice, the Euro/Eurozone could fall apart (I remember it was discussed at the time of the Greek crisis) but I wouldn’t rule it out as a possibility, with interesting, shall we say, consequences for the UK economy.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      Given the popularity here of linking Brexit to military analogies, I’ll make another tenuous one – D-Day. One of the curiousities about D-Day is that the Allies had almost no plan on what to do once they established the bridgehead. So much mental effort went into making the invasion a success, they put little or no effort into planning what happened after that – it seems that everyone just thought that it would be a fairly straightforward roll to Berlin by September. So the summer fighting in the bocage and the failure to produce a tank that didn’t bounce off a Tiger resulted in months of bloody and unexpected stalemate, enlivened with idiotic ideas such as Market Garden – seemingly the outcome of Allied Generals hating each other more than they hated the Germans.

      So while its easy to see some sort of evil Cummings plan behind it all, or deep strategizing by Barnier, I think its quite likely that the effort gone into Brexit so far, along with Covid, has led to mental exhaustion. I think its entirely possible that nobody has a clue what to do to get a deal, and no inclination to push themselves to find one. I very much doubt that anyone at a high level in London (at least nobody with the ear of Johnson) really knows what they’ll do after a crash out, apart from a vague belief that somehow it’ll all work out in the end.

    2. Otto

      Here in America he have spent to date 4 trillion and likely another 2-3 to go. Then we have the Fed leveraging what they whey have another 4 trillion. Random total $8 trillion and counting. Aside from whom is getting the money, that’s impressive, no? The EU even adjusted fir currency rate is less than a trillion and EU & EEU @714 million people – well that’s just peanuts. Pathetic. Scotland wants to be part of this mess?

      1. PlutoniumKun

        Just to be clear – the EU funding is just one part of the fiscal boost as unlike US States, the EU national governments still have their own independent capacity for fiscal operation – all the national governments are doing their own major fiscal independent fiscal boosts (aided for the most part by very low rates on bonds at the moment), plus there is the bond buying by the ECB. So the ‘real’ fiscal intervention in Europe is far more than a trillion. I haven’t seen any real comparisons between the EU and USA, but I suspect that if its all added up, it would be greater for the EU.

      2. d

        well based on your post…you would think the EU was way ahead of the US….having spent about 8Trillion….course for that the US has gotten what? oh year….lost job of 40 million…and counting…with just a little recovery of that…

  6. flora

    It seemed like the UK’s right wing (the Rees-Mogg crowd) want(ed) a crash out from the beginning. Is this correct? Are they getting their favored outcome by default from this inertia?

    1. PlutoniumKun

      What is clear is that none of the Brexiteers had any sort of a clear idea of what they wanted after Brexit. It seems that this was quite deliberate – if they had any sort of open discussion, then the obvious differences between them would open up. For example, if you read Richard Norths blog, its clear that he assumed that all the other Brexiteers thought the way he did – that the logical step for Brexit would be EFTA/EEA type arrangement as a transition to a more independant trade policy. It simply didn’t occur to him that so many of his fellow Brexiteers thought it was sensible or desirable to just throw the country off a cliff, and somehow it would turn into Singapore.

      But the reality is that over time, the Rees-Mog crowd have indeed persuaded themselves that a no-deal exit is a sort of purity test. If you don’t want a ‘clean break’, you are not a true Brexit believer. Over the past few years what was a fringe belief seems to have become the mainstream, and Boris has stacked his cabinet with true believers. So in this sense inertia favours them (as it always has).

      I also would not put it past some of them to have made investments based entirly on this outcome. Most of the finance/business world has been trading on the basis that some sort of deal would be made in the end. But there is a core of disaster capitalists within the Brexiters who I suspect fully intend to profit from no-deal chaos.

      So, in a nutshell, there is a core of people within the UK government who genuinely do not want a deal and are quite happy to sow chaos to achieve it. Its entirely possible this group includes the PM and his chief advisor.

      1. paul

        So, in a nutshell, there is a core of people within the UK government who genuinely do not want a deal and are quite happy to sow chaos to achieve it. Its entirely possible this group includes the PM and his chief advisor.

        I see it slightly differently, they want the chaos, it will free them from the demands of the lumpen. It will allow them to sign away any accountability to those they pretend to serve. Britannia will be finally chained.

        These impulses are driven by an insane hatred of a population who constantly disappoint them.

        The only surefire way to secure a future these days is to convince the pot bellied mekon that you consider him a fearless and powerful intellect, and you envy his dress sense.

      2. David

        I agree. The Brexit mob was even more unstable and disunited the most political coalitions are. Brexit, if you think about it, was much more a negative programme than a positive one (“Out of the EU!”). To keep the coalition together, it was necessary to set objectives that were so vague and meaningless that the maximum number of people could sign up to them. That was then, of course, and it’s become clear that there was no master-plan, not even a mini-master-plan, and that most of the plotters hadn’t thought about what would happen afterwards. To that, as you say, you have to add those who think that chaos could be turned to their political advantage, but probably don’t care much about the economic side of Brexit either way.
        I sometimes wonder what we have done to deserve this. I thought that after a lifetime spent around politicians I was incapable of surprise. I’m was wrong.

        1. Matthew Turner

          He’s actually rather popular with most people who don’t read the Guardian; and he is clinical at the dispatch box.

  7. John Jones

    What this article demonstrates ,in spades, is just how little information commentators or the legacy media really know what’s really going on in these negotiations.

    As Richard North writes , they could be closer to convergence than many realise or closer to real failure than many realise. Much of what Barnier and Frost say , could be what’s called “theatrics ” in the trade

    Truth is – we externals can speculate on the price of sterling and price of bread in Hungary but we are to quote John Major , ” outside of the goldfish bowl , looking in”.

    What worries me more is that the “elites ” of both sides are now genuinely accepting of a de minimus deal – not Australia but WTO in all but name.

    The “men of goodwill” theory of compromise in negotiaitions ( and strategic common sense) just isn’t apparent in the current fetid climate – the danger is that ,even in October, both sides fail to realise that the guys with the Big White Chargers er, don’t exist and that no one /anybody can /will come to the rescue.

    Maybe pictures of French/Dutch /Spanish /Danish Fishermen burning their boats in anger at not being able to catch any fish in UK waters , and British citizens dying in their thousands without recourse to nuclear medicine in radio therapy might do the trick in.order to inject a sense of urgency and compromise in what is likely to be a tsunami , tens times worse than Covid in the event of a failed deal.

    1. c_heale

      British Citizens (resident in the UK) are dying in their thousands from Covid and lack of medical treatment (since many other operations have been cancelled due to Covid), and that hasn’t caused the current UK government to change its inadequate approach to tackling Covid. I doubt Brexit will either.
      I don’t think there will be too much money made from a falling pound, since the process has taken so long I doubt any puts on the pound are worth much now.
      If Europe needs an incentive to avoid falling apart in has one staring it in the face – the UK.
      Also it looks like a depression is on the cards. The easiest thing to do is to close down surplus production in the UK. The UK will still need to buy food and other products from the rest of the world. No-one needs to buy anything from the UK.

    2. Clive

      Sigh. Some scare stories apparently have a half life measured in years. Radionuclides used for therapeutic purposes have a substantially longer effective time as they are selected for steady but not intense doses and contingency arrangements for airfreight are already in place.

      There’s one radioisotope-dependent testing protocol listed for which an alternative testing technique isn’t available. So no-one is going to be carting off truckloads of dead bodies from the oncology departments. The propaganda use of scare stories was one of the main reasons which Leave resolve strengthened over the multi-year Brexit process (as David rightly noted above, Leave was a disorganised often conflicted rabble) — people don’t like to think they’re being misled and, even more importantly, don’t like to think that their opponents think they’re easy marks for being misleadable in the first place. Remain’ers drank their own “Leave voters are stoopid” Kool-Aid and seemed to genuinely think any old tosh could be played out in the campaign and people would fall for it. What happened instead was, every time a baseless scare story got run, another Leave waverer’s resolve got stiffened.

      And Richard North, as is now more clearly apparent, was never a Leave’er in the first place. He was (is) a Remain’er who wanted to only leave the CFP. Otherwise, he wanted to remain in the EU’s key institutions (the Single Market and the Customs Union along with the so-called Four Freedoms). So not the same thing at all.

      1. John Jones

        To be scrupulously fair to Dr North , his proposed plan Flexcit , explicitly excludes the regulatory Customs Union , instead prefers the more amendable or customisable EFTA/EEA agreement as an interim half way house.
        What Dr North artfully did was to make explicit the linkage of the Single Market and global regulatory bodies – in other words , he forensically demonstrated that the EU was a rule taker of many global bodies Inc WTO,WCO, ICAO, ILO,UNECE et al – being in EFTA/EEA pillar would necessitate the UK following c 27% of SM rules and none of the CFP or CAP shenanigans.

      2. Otto

        Richard North, amen to that, but Thomas Cromwell was/is his man. He’d get things right straight away. He knows what needs doing and how to do it. The rest of us – out of the way, please. I guess one could say he tried having been fired from leave, and by Michael Grove as a Spad. Seems Dr. North has a temper. Where’s Charles 1st when you need him.

  8. attila the hun

    Brexit chaos coupled with the Corona virus could provide some exceptional opportunities to buy some really nice stuff at half price. Is it possible that some of the Conservative big shots see all this uncertainty and disruption as eventually resulting in a once in a lifetime buying opportunity? Perhaps that’s being too cynical and suspicious, if that’s possible.

  9. RBHoughton

    Percipient reporting NC – thanks. I suspect a good part of the reason this drags on and on is the unwillingness of the UK media to report it clearly. They have fallen into that confrontational split that sells news – one side says ‘yes’ and the other says ‘no’ – in preference to reporting the facts.

    Those in favour of Brexit are doubtful they’ve got it right and so are the opposers whilst government seems to have no fixed opinion, just a recognition the effects are going to be horrible. The course for England that could maintain living standards is to restore privateering and take what is not given, using the common excuses – smuggling, illicit trade – to justify our acts as we have done with the Venezuelan gold. It might start in the Cod Wars, Round Two.

    The suggestion that British withdrawal from the EU will cause its break-up, as another commentator has suggested, seems ‘pie in the sky’ to me. The fact is the world has become a horribly dangerous place barely hanging on to the rule of law, with the UN ignored by some great powers; a place where anyone out on his own is fair game for pirating. Look at the oil supplies out of Iraq, Syria and Libya being stolen before our eyes and not a word being said. This is not the time for an EU country to abandon what little protection the Union gives.

  10. c_heale

    Sorry Clive but your characterisations of Remainers spreading scare stories is wide of the mark. Most of my friends were remainers and could see that it could affect their lives. Many of them could also see through people like Farage.

    1. Clive

      I didn’t say Remain’ers spread scare stories. What I said was that the Remain campaigners sometimes spread scare stories. This was counterproductive to the Remain campaign.

      But I agree with the broad thrust of what you say. For most people (as in, real people having real conversations about the real issues) it was real-life principles and impacts which formed the basis of the debate. Silly season nonsense wasn’t taken, well, seriously. For people who got their positions informed by the media though, the media’s actions in treating their audiences as morons was a big negative for Remain.

      As for how Brexit “could affect their lives”, that’s an interesting nuance. Brexit was decided by democratic processes (several of them in succession). Any attempt to invoke some sort of precautionary principle narrative to shortchange these democratic processes was bound to be given short shrift and rightly so. Remain saying, in effect, “I have concerns about Brexit which Leave will need to allay before I ‘allow’ the U.K. to leave the EU, notwithstanding any votes which may have happened and the conclusion of them, the criteria for how I will deem my concerns to have been addressed is my exclusive prerogative” was — rightly — seen as an attempt to install a technocracy by another means. It failed.

      More simply put, Leave couldn’t get away with concern trolling an entire society.

  11. Lee

    What you see with Brexit.
    Is a ship autocratic fools determined to stop the voice of the people. Democracy is
    about all about little people. Power should be bottoms up. Not top down.

    The business holy grail of profit before people must continue. Keynes found he could only create profit at the national state level. Not on a individual business level. Business is not aligned with the democratic process.
    It is by design coercive. Sanctions are an abuse of a voter’s democratic right to live free and uncoerced.

    The HOLYKOW is happy continue to let the brexit clock tick down. Its more glorious autocratic power
    for his elite. It will enable the tories to push for more top down control of the money and business to enable further strip mining the UK people for profit. That is the tories actively and happily colluded with
    any foreign power the got the toxic result they wanted. Bugger democratic rights of people. POWER.
    Brexit vote was such landslide. 52-48.

    I point out, it suits the interest elites of USA and Russia to keep Europe divided. They hate democracy, It
    spoils their fun.

    HOLYKOW demonstrated this perfectly other day. He gave his orders.
    Employers must force employees back to work. Strangely enough employers
    had enough common sense to say no. They valued their employees as
    much as valued their customers.

    First past the post is male hierarchical thing. All power projection.

    It really is time referendise everything. The londonium elite power will be smashed.

    Every single Public Health Broadcast by the Tories has been stage manage for political reasons. Even now I cannot found out about the local infection rate. Keep the patsys ignorant of your real intent.

    All people
    All topics
    All discuss
    All can vote.

    Mobile phone, PCs enable instant democratic reaction to boss

    Brexit so gone along elitist myths (taxes pay for stuff)
    Place money directly in the hand of needy now. No caveats.
    It is democratic. Power hates democracy it prevents their scheming.

    How about?

    1. Clive

      Can’t find out about the local infection rates? There’s more stats than you can shake a stick at from high level summaries to endless slicing and dicing of every metric you can imagine and if you want county (local authorities) level data, here it is

      Or follow @UKCovid19Stats on Twitter for daily reporting and a fairly informed (by Twitter mob standards) commentary in the replies.

      How hard did you actually try in trying to find this data?

      I did like, though, “first past the post is male hierarchical thing”. There’s no issue in our societies and no matter to be decided that doesn’t benefit from a bit of added identity politics as far as I’m concerned.

  12. Dick Swenson

    The quote from “Dune” is good, and likely the only explanation for much that happns in the universe. But there is a competing narative. If you don’t know who Neal Stephenson is, go to Wilipedia. If you do know, pickup a copy of his (coauthored with Nicole Galiano) new book “The Rise and Fall of .O.D.O.” for an alternative explanation.

    Briefly, quantum mechanics explains magic undertaken by witches who are competing. And the US is involved via the DoD. A good read.

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