David Davis Resignation Throws UK Brexit, Cabinet Into Chaos

Posted on by

We had said that Brexit felt like a situation where too much energy was being pumped into a system. When that happens, it will eventually undergo a state change, meaning become chaotic compared to its prior form. That time has arrived.

Theresa May’s plans to achieve a semblance of unity and finally present the EU with a position of sorts fell into an utter shambles with the resignation of the minister in charge of the Government’s Brexit negotiations, David Davis. His deputy Steven Baker resigned on the heels of Davis and Brexit minister Suella Braverman joined them.

Perversely, the collapse of the delusion that there was a flavor of Brexit that could satisfy various factions among the Tories is, at a minimum, a gift to the EU. The leaks of terms that May briefly appeared to have gotten her Cabinet to accept were certain to be rejected by the EU, since they were just a reshuffling of arrangements that had already been nixed. :

The precise reasons for the EU’s rejection, when it comes, will not be at all difficult to work out. Firstly, at the core of the proposal is “the establishment by the UK and the EU of a free trade area for goods”. This supposedly entails the UK and the EU maintaining a “common rulebook” for all goods including agri-food, but it will cover only those areas “necessary to provide for frictionless trade at the border”.

The government, says the statement, would then “strike different arrangements for services”, the criterion being that it is “in our interests to have regulatory flexibility”. And, on that basis, the government recognises that “the UK and the EU will not have current levels of access to each other’s markets”.

This, as I have already pointed out, is cherry-picking at two levels. At one level, the UK is retaining the option to extract service provisions from the Single Market and, at the second level, the UK is deciding to apply only part of the acquis, on grounds of its own choosing.

But the effort to force an agreement, which May had put off, didn’t even last to the official announcement set for Monday. As a result, the UK’s disarray relieves the EU from being cast in the role of the bad guy for rejecting the UK’s unworkable plans.

It’s not yet clear whether the hard Brexit faction throwing a bomb at May’s plans will force a vote of no confidence. There had been 40 MPs who favored have her step down of the 48 required by the 1922 Committee; there’s now a call for a new tally:

Sources confirm letters calling for vote of confidence in leadership going in to , chair of 1922. Tory Brexiters very unhappy – accuse PM of traducing those who voted to leave EU. This appears to be spontaneous, not coralled by ERG &

— Robert Peston (@Peston)

According to Political UK, the head of the committee indicated on Sunday night he had two more anti-May votes, .

However, recall that the Tories are hamstrung by their desire above all not to precipitate snap elections, which could well lead to Labour coming into power. The ultras clearly view the Davis resignation as an opportunity for them to get the upper hand. :

• Vocal pro-Brexit MPs welcomed Davis’s move, with Andrea Jenkyns saying the next move was to make this a “game changer for Brexit” and calling for Boris Johnson to act.

• Jacob Rees-Mogg, leader of the pro-Brexit European Research Group faction, said the prime minister “would be well advised to reconsider” the Brexit vision she believed she had secured at Friday’s Cabinet summit at Chequers.

And as a result, more stories on the dangers of Brexit are getting short shrift. For instance, from the Independent, :

he chief executive of Asda has added his voice to a chorus of supermarket bosses warning that a hard Brexit could leave food rotting at the border and have severe financial implications for the sector.

Roger Burnley said that anything disrupting established food supply chains, currently governed by EU customs arrangements, would have “significant consequences”.

“What would be scary is the prospect of any holdup at the border. Any prospect of a holdup – that includes the Ireland border – would have very significant consequences.

“You’d be eating into the life of products with all sorts of implications for waste, for freshness, for quality,” he said…

The British Retail Consortium and a host of other organisations have also said that food prices could rocket if the government botches Britain’s exit from the bloc in March 2019.

I could say more, but we are in the midst of an overly dynamic situation, and much depends on whether May judges it to be necessary to make serious concessions to the ultras, or whether they’ve taken their best shot at her, and she can manage to stare them down. Businesses clearly want to avoid a hard Brexit (and actually any Brexit at all if they understood that even a “soft” Brexit won’t give them the frictionless borders they so keenly want to preserve) and popular sentiment is also moving against a hard Brexit and even towards having a second referendum, despite it being far too late for that sort of things. But whether those external factor make any difference are to be determined.

Richard North argues in an instructive tweetstorm that it was incorrect to see May as navigating between a hard and soft Brexit; she was instead trying to find a compromise that would work for the EU and her fractious Cabinet.

4. Now she's left with a "plan" that pleases no-one but, to continue the motoring metaphor, to get there, she's driven down a narrow cul-de-sac in a car with no reverse gear. She can neither U-turn nor back out. She has nowhere to go.

— Richard North (@RichardAENorth)

North still thinks there is a way forward for the UK:

9. Probably now the only workable strategy is for the Tories to appoint an unknown "dark horse" leader to go to Brussels and seek an Art 50 extension, while they work up an Efta/EEA application, to be progressed once we have settled a Withdrawal Agreement and transition.

— Richard North (@RichardAENorth)

It would be better if I were wrong, but I am not so optimistic. The entire discussion in the UK about Brexit has been so badly informed that I don’t think it would be possible for anyone, even with a clear idea of a viable option that would be acceptable to the EU and would limit damage to the UK could sell it to a press and public that has been fed a steady diet of falsehoods and policy muddle.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

101 comments

  1. Matthew G. Saroff

    No problem.

    The British will win the World Cup, and Theresa May will use the euphoria to get everything she wants.

    I would just note that the above is completely bonkers, and intended as satire.

    1. Which is worse - bankers or terrorists

      Winning the World Cup is probably at this point Theresa May’s most viable and likely strategy.

      Go Croatia!

      1. vlade

        Especially since the UK said none of the senior people or royals will visit (Novichok). Can you imagine what a coup May is passing if Putin was forced to congratulate her on the WC win? ;)

        1. PlutoniumKun

          At least Boris won’t be able to butt in and take Putins call instead. He’s just resigned.

        1. Harry

          Anything can happen in a one off game. And the team british players will have faced most often in their dometic league will be the Belgian’s.

  2. Clive

    Unfortunately there’s nothing in the parliamentary arithmetic which would allow a consensus vote for extending A50 and EEA membership negotiations.

    The ultras obviously wouldn’t go for it. The orthodox-Remain’ers will want a second referendum and then the full revocation of A50 assuming that any second referendum went their way, for which there’s no time to organise one anyway. Don’t-care wish-it-would-all-just-go-away’ers might go for it in a free vote, but their vote will be split between the two hardline positions.

    And that assumes there’s a free vote allowed by the Labour whips anyway — EEA means Single Market, Customs Union, ECJ et al which are Corbyn red lines. Perversely perhaps, he would probably be happy to support the May Compromise. But then the EU27 wouldn’t in all likelihood accept it, so everyone lands on the big snake and we’re back to the start.

    I hate to say it, but the least-worse option now sounds like a crash out on WTO terms and a Herculean effort to nullify — as much as they can be nullified, which probably isn’t all that much, but it’s better than outcome of continuing in the la-la land existence we’ve been subjected to for the past two years will result in — the worst effects of a no-deal.

    Some sort of fudgey compromising, which I suppose, being uncharacteristically nice, May was attempting to broker, would have been better. But persisting in fantasies about A50 extensions, EEA memberships, second referendums, a general election, a change of Conservative party leadership or whatever coming to the rescue and solving everything is simply more magic sparkle ponying.

    1. ahimsa

      @Clive

      Do you seriously think crashing out on WTO terms (note, some have questioned if this is even possible) is the least worst option, i.e. a NO-DEAL Brexit??

      I have been following Richard North’s blog for some time and the labrynthine details are staggering.

      1. Clive

        I’m not saying I like any of it.

        But the key to dealing with any problem is a realistic, objective assessment of the current situation. It’s so tempting, when you’re faced with unpleasantness, to conjure up knights on white stallions rescuing damsels from the dungeon myths. I think there’s a part of humanity’s psychology that makes us determined to try to wrestle a good ending from even the most hopeless of scenarios, like this one is.

        And does that not ring true from your own personal or professional experience? How many times have you hung on in there during a bad relationship, bad business deal, bad workplace, bad boss, bad family situation etc. etc. etc. — hoping that “something would turn up”, some sequence of events would unfold or some change to the dynamic be brought about? Putting time and energy and effort into these idealised externalities is comforting, but these seductive comforts can be treacherous if they delay right and unavoidable action.

        There’s nothing at all wrong with North’s suggestions. But they face both time and political constraints. If the suggestions aren’t feasible because of these, it’s actually a harmful distraction to keep flogging these dead horses.

        1. vlade

          That all said, if some humans didn’t go for what everyone else considered irrational, we’d probably be still up in the trees.

          That said, it’s pretty much out of the UK’s hands now – it’s entirely up to EU’s mercy. It was so since it foolishly triggered A50 “just so” (on the day of the referendum, I said that if Cameron wanted to really srew the UK, he should have also immediately triggered A50 too. It’s telling that Corbyn was the only politician clamouring for that, which tells you how much he knows about the world outside of the UK), except now it’s becoming obvious even more so.

          1. AbateMagicThinking but Not Money

            Vlade – EU’s mercy:

            It always was and still is entirely up to the EU’s mercy. That they do not seem to have absolutely laid down the rules (what you might expect in their position) seems to demonstrate that they are in no position to dish out mercy or otherwise. They cannot agree on immigration either (see Schwengen and other more recent difficulties).

            In a way it is a similar situation to making agreements with the US. The President might hammer out an international agreement on whatever but often cannot get it past the checks and balances.

            Fascinating!

            Pip-Pip

            1. rd

              W and Tony Blair are the gift that keep on giving. The destabilization of Iraq led to the current refugee crisis that is overwhelming European politics. Britain may have been in a better position on negotiating freedom of movement rules but the refugee crisis has thrown the EU into its own internal series of crises on freedom of movement.

              Brexit was going to be very difficult and complex to get a mutually satisfactory agreement, but the refugee crisis is simply making it harder.

              “Sunk cost fallacy” – it looks like it is time for the Brits to regroup and take a very cold-eyed perspective on exactly where they are today and what they really believe they can get negotiated without the use of fairy dust. I don’t see that the EU has much to gain by being soft on Brexit.

          2. Colonel Smithers

            Thank you, Vlade, and well said about Corbyn.

            It’s not just Corbyn, though. The others really don’t inspire confidence.

          3. icancho

            if some humans didn’t go for what everyone else considered irrational, we’d probably be still up in the trees.

            while Douglas Adams suggested that it was a big mistake to have come down from the trees in the first place.

        2. Yves Smith Post author

          Exactly re time and politics. The EU is not extending the A50 negotiations, save for a few months to suit them and then only if the UK were engaged in good faith negotiations and both sides were making progress but there were loose ends (and they will be numerous!) to sort out.

          And the “default to WTO rules” is a myth. You have to apply to the WTO and there are other countries ahead of the UK in the queue. Many, even most, might be willing to trade with the UK on status quo ante provisions, but even that requires negotiation, since many countries have quotas for various goods, and the formulas would need to be renegotiated for a stand-alone UK.

          1. Mirdif

            I can’t find it now but I saw tweet earlier today from an EU(??) official stating that the British seats in the Parliament have been re-allocated provisionally but they will be changed back to the current allocation in case of a change in the situation.

            This makes me very suspicious about how things may (heh!) pan out. We might well see a request to extend at the last moment but that is contingent on massive job losses bringing the brexit demographic to its senses. If these losses don’t happen, and I don’t expect them to until post crash out, then there is no way the Tories can save the country and not be crushed at the next election. A post crash out can always be blamed on the EU and Theresa May negotiating badly and point to Windrush and Grenfell as further evidence of her personal incompetence.

          2. vlade

            IMO the EU could extend A50 – but it would be to suit their timelines (i.e. they would not have the minimal required stuff in place for a no-deal crashout), not the UK’s.

            Even so, it’s the UK that would have to ask, which I find unlikely until after it crashes out and suffers first few days of chaos – at which time it’s of course too late.

  3. Fazal Majid

    I don’t know why you quote Richard North so approvingly. He may sound sane for a brexiteer, but his bizarre idea that EU countries are chomping at the bit to overthrow the tyranny of Brussels and replace it with a loose free-trading federation under the auspices of UNECE is, to put it mildly, completely disconnected from reality. All UNECE has ever done is invent the EDIFACT electronic trade document standards, some of the most baroque the world of IT has ever seen. That an obscure UN standards organization would become a challenger to the EU or EEA is not right, and not even wrong, to quote Wolfgang Pauli.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      I agree that North has some odd ideas (not least that he is, or was, a climate change denier), but he knows his stuff on trade. He’s weaker on the politics of the situation (bizarrely, he thought his fellow Brexiteers understood that EEA/EFTA membership was the only realistic stepping stone out of the EU), but he’s still a very useful source, and probably the only commentator I know within the UK who truly gets whats going on at an institutional level.

    2. Mirdif

      I believe UNECE is also responsible for producing other things like vehicle safety standards. No doubt, he’s one of the foremost trade experts in Britain but I do agree with you that he’s a little bit disconnected from reality. For him to reveal his true self you need to read the comments.

      My two favorite comments from North were one where he said it was a valid point of view when one of his fellow travellers said that black people are genetically predisposed to crime and North said he won’t delete this as it as a valid point of view. The other one was how he doesn’t like Pakistanis because if they move in to his street his house price will go down and they are responsible for closing all the pubs, by not going to them, in any area where they live in large numbers. That last comment cracks me up whenever I think of it!

      1. Maff

        Why do you find the second comment so funny? I think it is likely to be factually accurate but, even if you disagree, it has to be so obviously factually incorrect that it is amusing that someone could be so dumb (hard to see). Perhaps the thought of someone not spontaneously aligning with your moral system “thou shalt take a utility hit in situations like this because (I say) it is moral to do so” is just such a crack-up?

        Humour, eh?

        1. Mirdif

          Well, it cracks me up because it means there are thousands of people responsible for the closures of all sorts of business on the basis they don’t frequent them. Hardly, the fault of the non-punters now is it? Or in your assessment the non-punters are to blame for not being customers. Incredible!

          If you want to make money in business start offering things people want to buy. If the people don’t want to buy your goods, thats hardly their fault now is it? Well, I expect you’ll blame people for not buying the wares of Mothercare and similar. That is of course, the quite logical conclusion to his argument and your defence of it.

          Me amused? You bet!

          1. Fazal Majid

            I am single-handedly responsible for the closure of every single elephant-repelling powder shop in Richard North’s neighborhood, by refusing to patronize them.

    3. Yves Smith Post author

      North is the only person who understands the technical issues regarding Brexit writing on the topic. He’s in a class by himself. And he very seldom articulates the position that has you riled up. I must read his daily posts at least 4x a week, and I often but not always read the ones I missed. I’ve never see him making that argument, which means it has not risen to the level of being a theme on his site.

      1. Mirdif

        These types of arguments are in the comments. I’m hardly riled up by them, though. I find these sorts of arguments amusing more than anything else and indeed I was quite unsurprised by this from him. I would be utterly unsurprised if somebody told me he was in favour of invading Iraq as well.

        These sorts of things are indicative of how the memes and sterotypes of a goodly proportion of the brexit voting demographic are indeed correct.

      2. Fazal Majid

        I was basing my comment on his many white papers published before the referendum, not his blog.

  4. PlutoniumKun

    I do wonder though if the true believers realise that they don’t have to dislodge May to get their dream? As things stand, the full on ‘leave with no compromises’ (i.e. chaotic Brexit) will happen. Its pretty clear from their statements that they don’t see this as a disaster, just a nice little crisis for them to cash in and destroy whats left of the welfare state and all the other things they don’t like, with enough time for them to reach their libertarian paradise before the next election.

    But I’m very surprised that Davis has gone – I assumed May would not do anything without being sure he was at least partly on board – the whole point of the agonising process was to keep people like him in the process. Judging from his statements in the Guardian though he doesn’t seem to be launching a full on assault on May – although perhaps he wants someone else to wield the knife.

    I do agree with North that the only hope now to avoid a chaotic Brexit is a ‘clean skin’ in charge, whether Tory or even Corbyn. Europe might welcome the chance to postpone the chaos for another 18 months, that will give time to strip the UK of its car industry and biopharma. Ireland is certainly desperate for more time, the government can’t even be bothered anymore hiding its despair at London’s antics.

    1. vlade

      The real problem is – and really always was – to find a UK concensus of what the hell the UK really wants.

      That, unfortunately, means cross-party concensus, which neither party at the moment is willing to look at. Moreover, both parties treat this as an entirely turf-fight, ignoring the larger wide world. I have not seen a single MP, across Labour and Tories (with the possible exception of Ken Clarke – a Tory at that) who may actually get what would a no-deal Brexit crash mean. They speak about generals readying for the last war – the UK politicians across the spectrum seem to be assuming that the world outisde the UK is stuck in 19th century.

      I believe that a referendum now would be a narrow remain win () – but there’s no time for that, and even if there was, it would not heal the UK, if anything, it would make the split sharper.

      Unfortunately, it looks like the UK voters need to find out that all of the politicias are shafting them, and the only way to do is a shock. Of course, the problem with such shocks is that they rarely if ever deliver what one expects them to.

    2. makedoanmend

      Further to your point (and as clarified by Yves recently) the ongoing saga of “crisis” Tory meetings are a means to engage the public’s attention on the Tory party rather than on actual Brexit issues.

      Additionally, the Tories, it seems, have succeeded in making many British people just wish that Brexit would go away or finally come to fruition, if only to make the interminable coverage about Tory political infighting go away. Other than sticking the boot into the poor and disabled on occassion, Tory policy has largely gone the way of the dodo.

      Hence to your point, it seems that many hard Brexiteers are only too happy to let the omnishambles continue until their dinner bell rings on March 2019. Then the jollity and japes can begin in earnest.

      [As a side note, when I want to know about Bexit – which is rarely – I just turn to the Irish Times. Ain’t great but little or no BS attached to the analysis – which is a breath of fresh air.] [And Ireland should have its act together by this stage. What were/are the big boys and girls thinking? That the Tories care about Ireland – ha, ha, ha….]

      1. PlutoniumKun

        Agree with you about the Irish Times (and RTE and even TheJournal) is much superior to any UK outlet. Even WaterfordWhispers understands whats going on.

        For me, one of the most enjoyable part of the Brexit saga has been seeing the slow dawning realisation on the Fine Gael Toryboy wing and their fellow travellers in the media/establishment that the ‘real’ Tories hold them in such contempt, and that the Unionists (who deep down they like more than Nordie nationalists) are even worse. Its a bit like watching a spoiled child finding out that his parents secretly loath him.

        1. liam

          Ah, but there’s been some delicious ironies in this.

          What’s worrying me though is that that very complacent loyalty has informed the government for too long. My overwhelming impression is that they’re just not prepared enough for a whole range of problems. Pat Leahy has an article in the Irish Times about Varadkars bad week. He lists 3 problems; the second being that he thought the backstop could apply to the whole of the UK, and that he has only now realised that it could only ever apply to the north.

          Btw. Thanks again to Yves for reading the signal in the noise.

          1. PlutoniumKun

            Very little preparation has been done for a chaotic exit. I’ve seen no evidence of the staff recruitment that would be required – and its probably too late now.

        2. makedoanmend

          As for Irish TV, I only watch ‘back issues’ of Ros na Rún on TG4 on occassion for a an update – but couldn’t be arsed with the news. But, yeah, Waterford Whispers has been devastatingly good on this slow motion Brexit debacle.

          1. makedoanmend

            By the by, the parent spoiled child analogy is excellent. (It’s a keeper, but will attribute it to its author when I have occasion to use it!)

    3. Anonymous2

      Much of course depends on the Conservative Parliamentary Party. Tory MPs can get rid of May if they wish of course but they can also give her a resounding vote of confidence and cement her in place for the next 12 months (no new leadership challenge allowed for 12 months after a failed one?). May presumably will have taken soundings before making her Chequers move. Her problem of course here is that Tory MPs are notorious liars (most of all about their voting intentions in a leadership vote) so has she been led into a trap or has she outmanoeuvred her rivals? Time will tell and could give us an answer as to where the UK is headed?

      1. makedoanmend

        Or is the only remaining question this: is May an intimate party member to the kabuke in order to manipulate British Brexit consumption or a convenient political patsy? (political patsy: A politician whose desire for power far outweighs their ability and skills to actually govern.)

        This question seems relevant since Brexit is 1) a foregone conclusion at this juncture 2) this is June and quite likely the last temporal point in which some sort of deal could have been cobbled together and legislatively formalised by March 2019 and 3) every time there is a Tory “break-though” the break-through breaks within hours or, at most, days.

        [The only other sane alternative is that the British establishment is taking the negotiations to the brink in order to get a the EU to accept a half-arsed set of vague clauses within a total agreement which the British establishment can then unpick and dilute as time passes – but I don’t see the ‘codification’ EU establishment agreeing to this scenario any time soon.]

    4. vlade

      My comment is in moderation (I suspect due to the link), so tld;r version:

      Matters not who’s the UK’s leader, as parliament (and the country) is split so they can’t agree what they want. With hard deadline of A50, the UK’s entirely at the EU’s mercy.

    5. Yves Smith Post author

      The EU does not want a delay. This is a UK fantasy. Brexit is taking too much time when the EU has more important issues to sort out, namely migration. Various officials have said on a not-for-attribution basis that they’ve had it with Brexit, it’s taking too much time, and they have better things to be doing. And they do not want to cut the UK any breaks because that would encourage other nations to consider a Brexit.

  5. Which is worse - bankers or terrorists

    I have a layman’s question here from the US. Given that some of the negative outcomes of a hard Brexit akin to an emergency situation, couldn’t May just invoke some kind of emergency powers, getting the Brexit deal approved without a vote and delaying a confidence vote? The current political structure of the U.K. seems ungovernable (although better than the US), meaning some kind of authoritarian/emergency rule to force things through on behalf of the business interests might make sense. It seems May’s goal is to stay in power, so this should suit.

    My own personal experience living in countries in a civil war tells me people tend to prefer authoritarian rule to anarchy, although this is something they rarely admit.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      There are others here who know more about the arcane workings of the British constitution, but so far as I am aware there is no provision for the PM to enact emergency powers under any circumstances without Parliament giving them to her. The essence of the British system is that Parliament is sovereign. And there is no possibility of Parliament surrendering its powers to do that to May.

      1. Which is worse - bankers or terrorist

        Yes, but in practice, let’s say May is replaced soon. The new PM faces an even worse mess and there are demands to soon replace that person. If there is truly not a political solution to the problem and food is rotting in ports and there are food riots, what are the alternatives?

        I see a lot of the postulating surrounding May’s exit, not the post- March 2019 endgame, which it seems should be the real focus. You could have Churchill in there and he would be gone as quick as May given the political terrain. The question is, how does this ever stabilize to a new equilibrium given the current ungovernable Parliamentary system? We are watching the parties divide into a number of factions making consensus quite difficult.

        You are going to have an angry public looking for scapegoats and lacking consensus next year. Where does that lead? I don’t see people shedding light on that question.

        I ask this because in my mind the smart politicians and elites are thinking this way and evaluating their position in the coming mix.

      2. Anonymous2

        It appears emergency regulations can be made by the Queen under an order in Council in accordance with the Civil Contingencies Act. They can only last for 30 days unless Parliament approves an extension.

        Precisely what can be done under such regulations presumably depends on the precise terms of the legislation and the nature of the emergency.

    2. Mirdif

      That would be the end of Britain. You can’t go around the world lobbing high explosives on people’ heads on the basis of bringing democracy to them and then do the exact opposite at home. Nobody would ever take you seriously ever again.

      It would also likely rile the EU as that is one of the reasons that Turkish membership has gone backwards – less adherence to “democratic” ideals.

      Civil Contingencies Act will likely be invoked post crash out. I thought last year that there was a stink around the pay rise offers to the police and my guess at that time was it was to curry favour with policemen to do the state’s bidding when crash out happens. Nothing has happened since to change my mind.

      1. AbateMagicThinking but Not Money

        Mirdif and the end of Britain:

        England had its revolution some centuries ago and seemingly has no stomach for it any more. If however the tories and their fellow travellers were to go at it hammer & tongs – strictly among themselve like knights of yore, there would be a large and willing audience.

        However, my thinking is that if you are not prepared to think the unthinkable you are not prepared to think.

        Pip-Pip!

        ps Bye bye Boris (blunder on!)

    3. Fazal Majid

      She tried, asking for so-called “Henry VIII powers” to have the government get a blank check to edit laws as needed. That proposal was soundly rejected by Parliament.

  6. David

    The plan from the beginning was to come up with a proposal – virtually any proposal – which the government and the Tory Party could unite around, and which could then be put to Brussels; perhaps there were delusionals who believed that such a proposal could be an acceptable basis for negotiation, but the main purpose was to shift the political burden of rejecting the deal to the EU. This would then become the pretext for a post-Brexit strategy of trying to unite the country around resentment about the evil and underhand behaviour of Brussels. Etc. Etc. I think North has consistently misinterpreted speeches and proposals by May as aimed at the EU, when they were clearly aimed at an internal Tory audience. And it’s important to understand just how tiny this audience is: effectively it’s the parliamentary party, and within that whoever happens still to be in the Cabinet. Wider national interests just don’t figure.
    Now it looks as if a wheel has come off, or, to put it another, way, the possibility of the government presenting an even vaguely coherent agreed set of proposals is now about zero. You can blame the EU for rejecting your proposals but you can’t blame them for your inability to produce proposals in the first place.
    So I do actually think that we are in Art 50 territory, though it won’t be easy. I think Parliamentary opinion matters in a negative sense – ie May and the government could be brought down by a vote of confidence, perhaps worded to make it clear that it was the government’s Brexit policy that was the problem – “this house has no confidence in the decision by the government to halt the Art 50 process” or something. That might or might not lead to a general election – such is the confusion surrounding the British “Constitution” that nobody really knows.
    But I don’t see why an affirmative vote would be needed just to pause the negotiations. The legal argument for parliamentary involvement the final deal was that it would involve lots of legislative consequences, and legislation is parliament’s affair. That can’t hold, by definition, for a pause in negotiations, which leaves things as they are now. Of course it would be hard to bring off, but if the alternative were a Labour government, then I doubt if there would be a serious attempt by the Brexiters to bring the government down. There’s no need to link an Art 50 pause to EFTA or similar as North does. The argument, which pretty much writes itself, is that the UK needs more time to get its act together, without prejudice to what the eventual shape of that act might be.

  7. liam

    In a probably outlandish, (maybe even outrageous), reading of tea leaves I had the thought that the DUP might be the ones to break the stalemate. I couldn’t help note Arlene Fosters presence at a GAA match a couple of weeks ago. Being the first time a DUP, (maybe even unionist?), politician has attended a game that’s quite a gesture*. And as PK has mentioned a few times, the North stands to either benefit the most or suffer the worst from this whole mess. If they had the nous, they could draw up their own wish list.

    * For those who are not from Ireland: GAA means Gaelic Athletic Games, and a GAA pitch was the almost stereotypically preferred location for UK army bases, historical massacres, etc.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      I think that with internal DUP politics, that was always unlikely – many of the DUP inner circle are true believers in Brexit, and even hope that a hard border will help them. I think Fosters new openness has more to do with the Assembly, hoping to ensure blame for direct rule is spread around more. Phoenix Magazine said that she’d been advised that her hardline stance was counterproductive.

      1. liam

        Thanks PK. To be honest, I agree with you. I hesitated writing that as it seemed dumb even to me, but then what made me put fingers to keys was the sheer stupidity of the whole thing. As Lambert and Yves often write, this is an overly dynamic situation. There are few key players who could break the deadlock. The DUP are one of them. If they ever collectively realised that they have an historical opportunity to redefine the Northern question, and shape the answer in their favour … but then stupidity really does seem to be the operative keyword here.

  8. The Rev Kev

    Just read that May has appointed Dominic Raab as the new Brexit Minister. His Wikipedia entry at doesn’t fill one with confidence.

    1. paul

      If you think his wiki is disturbing, you should read his group (The british ultra liberal youth (he’s 44))

      Nothing out of the ordinary for a rising star in the tory party, though.

      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you, Kev, Larry and Paul.

        Please see my response to Mirdif about immigrants.

        Raab grew up in Buckinghamshire, my home county. I am not surprised to see the provincial bourgeois and poujadiste lot turn out like that, especially the grammar school kids trying to be like the public school kids they come across at Oxbridge. The Blairites are similar.

        NB Buckinghamshire retains the 12 / grammar school system and, with an eye on the Chinese market, seeking to expand the franchise.

        1. paul

          The hunger to belong is strong in these ones.
          A disinterested observer might wonder how such hyper-conformism sits with the ideas of rugged individualism.He thinks he’s at the top table, but he’s only there to do the dishes afterward.

          1. Ignacio

            I believe that Davis resignation won’t have important consequences. Looks like Dominic Raab –described as hard brexiter in spanish newsrooms– has been appointed to present May’s plan. When the EU rejects the proposal (as it has been planned) May will play the game of how intransigent is the EU.

    1. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you, Mirdif.

      Suella Braverman, nee Fernandes, is one of these immigrants or children of immigrants who wants to outdo the native fervour, in her case and those of Priti Sawyer, nee Patel, and Sajid Javid, it’s euroskepticism and opportunism.

      The mother of Braverman is from Mauritius, like my parents. She’s Catholic, raised in her father’s religion and a religion well known to her Hindu mother, and went to Cambridge and the Sorbonne. It’s odd for someone with that eclectic background and education to stick around with the Tory skeptics and backwoodsmen.

      The above trio remind me of what I heard about Ugandan Asians from relatives and friends.

      #Let’s be having you, Suella! Make it a hat trick!

      1. Clive

        They do rather remind me of the westerners I saw in Japan who were determined to use, or try to use, chopsticks. Despite the embarrassingly obvious fact they were at best less dexterous than the native Japanese and, at worse, just plain clumsy. What seemed to be more appreciated by the restaurateurs and fellow diners was an apology, in perfect polite / humble Japanese speech, for being a clueless and ignorant foreigner and there was no excuse but could I please have a knife and fork. Of which there was always one available out back and was then promptly brought to my table with a smile.

        Seeing the Javid’s and Patel’s of the Conservative party doing the ideological equivalent of dropping their rice on the tatami mats in a bid to out right-wing the craziest of the most right-wing loons has a similar effect. If they think those sort of attempts at ingratiating themselves with the Daily Mail will win over that crowd, they’re in for a bitter disappointment.

        And yes, for reasons I can’t quite fathom, Buckinghamshire does seem to be the ground zero for that class of politician or business person who, being surrounded by the landed gentry and, one assumes, yearns to join them tries just that little bit too had — not realising they’ll forever be the just landed gentry in the eyes of The real McCoy. Hertfordshire runs it a close second.

      2. Mirdif

        I’m from very similar stock to Sajid Javid and indeed if I were to investigate I may even find some relatives in common – this is based on simply knowing where his late-dad was from and when his late-dad arrived in Britain. I can well understand the trade-offs he’s likely thought about and made in his life though I’m about 10 years younger than he.

        The reason for people like Sajid and others to ingratiate themselves with the most aggressively right wing set is very well explained by Clive. I must also concur, they’ll likely be disappointed by the rejection from a goodly portion of those whose support they hope to gain.

        As for the Asian Ugandans, this is a community I’m familiar with although more familiar with their Kenyan “cousins”. The south Asian communities from which the Ugandans, Kenyans and Tanzanians originate consider them to be a little bit apart. They are, or I should say were, considered to be snobs. The attitude was very well summed up by a now passed acquaintance of my dad’s, who had been taken to Kenya as a baby in the early 1920s: “The whites were at the top and then it was us and the blacks were beneath us”. They considered themselves to be an adjunct to the “whites” and in my opinion this translates to doing things that they think will ingratiate them with their “masters”.

        As for Sajid Javid making a run at the top job and especially in light of the rumours that Rees-Mogg has something on him, I hope he kept his nose clean considering what I know of the behaviour of bankers and more generally the attitude of British professionals to drugs.

  9. paul

    She certainly cancelled that out by attending the cowdenbeath orange order rally the other week. Her suggestion of a more tolerant unionism (based around the actions of william of orange FFS) was guaranteed to fall on stony ground. Her fellow speakers reiterated the no surrender bollocks and described their opponents (just about everyone else here) as no less than ‘enemies of christ’.

    Judging how a , her followers had little interest in such a message.

    The re-weaponisation of the orange order here is on of the most distressing aspects of the current mess.

    1. liam

      Thanks Paul. Yeah, it was a stupid suggestion. I sometimes think people are rational. Even Paisley Snr saw where the wind was blowing. But reality often reminds me otherwise.

      1. Colonel Smithers

        Thank you, Liam and Paul.

        Can you imagine that was an assault on one of the chosen people by a Labour activist. We would not hear the end of it.

        One can imagine the Orangeade serving their establishment masters when the Indyref 2 arises after hard Brexit,

        Not unrelated, I came across the SNP’s Ian Blackford last week. Does he know anything? I am not surprised Scotland is grappling to become independent with someone like him around. What does that say about Scottish Labour, a sick joke I know? Clucking bell!

        1. paul

          The SNP are a very cautious,incurious lot, though I know little about blackford, he did make a worthwhile motion a short while ago which passed and should clear the way for indyref2.

          Scottish Labour are far worse than you could ever imagine.

            1. paul

              Where to start?
              First is the fact that there is no such thing as scottish labour, it is, according to the electoral commission an accounting unit of the the UK labour party. It cannot by law deviate from UK party positions in an election.
              That’s why they voted enthusiastically for bedroom taxes and austerity and refused to support the SNP’s efforts to mitigate these.
              That’s why,when in power in holyrood, they enthusiastically embraced PFI for overpriced hospitals and schools which promptly fell down
              It had been so comfortable in power they felt perfectly justified in spending millions of pounds fighting pay equality in glasgow for their lowest paid female workers.
              One leader of the party in glasgow had his young male friend drop dead on the steps of the council buildings as well as being linked to gangsters and developing some alarming drug dependencies.
              The succession of increasingly terrible leaders, from the vapid iain gray, through the henry jackson society founding member jim murphy, the moronic kezia dugdale (who commended her followers to vote tory as they were preferable to the SNP) to the miserable current leader, Leonard, who cannot seem to tell the difference between devolved and reserved powers.
              There’s also the formal and informal tory labour coalitions currently active in many scottish councils (aberdeen,falkirk and west lothian, to name but three).
              The tiny detail that they,like the blue tories, have not a single policy idea to improve scotland is also rather off-putting.

      2. PlutoniumKun

        Paisley Snr had the advantage of having an unshakeable reputation as a hardliner – its always easier for someone like that to make a 180 degree turn.

        The problem for broader Unionism is that there is nobody anymore with Paisleys aura, while the pragmatists seem to have given up in despair. The UUP is irrelevant and the DUP is largely made up ideologues who are even more hardline than their constituents. Even though the polls strongly suggest that a very substantial number of Unionists see the dangers of Brexit, nobody in a leadership position is representing them.

  10. Colonel Smithers

    Thank you, Yves.

    If all goes well, I am hoping to dine with Brussels insiders from tomorrow to Thursday and will send a read-out. We have not caught up for months.

  11. Pavel

    Rees-Mogg was apparently asked this morning if he would challenge May for the leadership. From the Grauniad’s :

    Asked if he would go for the Tory leadership if May was ousted, Rees-Mogg gave something of a classic non-denial. He said:

    My sole ambition is that we get Brexit. It is not about me personally – that is a complete distraction.

    Pressed on it, he said only: “There isn’t a vacancy.”

    One wonders what Boris Johnson is thinking right now. There was some speculation he too would resign, but I suspect (as a friend said yesterday) he hasn’t “got the bottle”.

    I’ve been following UK politics since the Thatcher era and I’ve never seen a PM as weak and as incompetent as May.

    BTW Yves, not to be that guy but there is presumably a missing “EU” in the following sentence?

    As a result, the UK’s disarray relieves the from being cast in the role of the bad guy for rejecting the UK’s unworkable plans.

    1. PlutoniumKun

      I assume the situation is that everyone realises the person to take May down won’t be PM. They need a stalking horse, but it seems there are no volunteers so far. Or it may be – as David says above – that as there is a realisation that there is no majority in the House of Commons for any concensus approach any PM will be a lame duck as far as Brexit is concerned. So from that calculation, it is better for someone with those ambitious to wait until after March next year.

      1. Pavel

        As they say almost ad nauseum whenever these UK leadership contests are discussed, “The hand that wields the sword never gets the crown” … most famously perhaps Michael “Tarzan” Heseltine and Maggie Thatcher way back when.

  12. Colonel Smithers

    Ministers who resign sometimes say that they wish to spend more time with their families. One wonders if Davis, Michael Fallon and Bob Stewart will have more time for their tri-weekly pub crawls.

  13. David

    It depends on what the motives of those wanting to get rid of May might be. I can see two, closely linked. Neither will actually help to unify the party, and will simply change the position of the crisis fault-lines.
    One is to sabotage the government, perhaps bringing it down, to prevent all hopes of a soft Brexit by making effective government impossible. May has no authority left, but it’s hard to imagine who might have more. The second would to to put a hard-liner into Downing Street who would deliberately wreck the negotiations, without even a pretence of trying to find a consensus, as a basis for an appeal to nationalist sentiment in a later election. Anyone wishing to be a properly elected, unifying Tory leader will be keeping their head down.
    I suppose there is a third option: an interim man in grey suit, sent to Brussels to ask them to stop the clock while the British systems sorts itself out, after which it’s thank you very much and a knighthood and directorships. That could happen if – even for diametrically opposed reasons – enough Tory members believe it’s in their short-term interests to have a pause.
    And beware stalking horses given the complexity of the Tory leadership rules. In 1975, there was a stalking horse called M Thatcher, though she’s faded from view since.

    1. Colonel Smithers

      Thank you, David.

      I have heard from Tory activiststhat the shop steward, Graham Brady, has more than 50 letters / signatures, but many letters have a caveat and the shop steward has some discretion about when to act on the letters.

      In addition, soundings have been taken for potential candidates, including newly promoted junior ministers in case the members want to skip a generation. The candidates have been bucketed as compromise candidates to lead the party into an election like Michael Howard in 2005 and hand over to a clean skin, a balanced ticket at the top to bring both wings together (perhaps with Anna Soubry as remainer balance), a new generation (e.g. Javid, Raab etc.) or even younger generation (e.g. Sarah Newton).

  14. CharlesV

    “and much depends on whether May judges it to be necessary to make serious concessions to the ultras, or whether they’ve taken their best shot at her, and she can manage to stare them down.”

    Last Friday was all about staring them down. I think she did it well even if it is months too late. They clearly planned for resignations, Davis’ successor was appointed quickly: someone younger and very ambitious.

    The ultras have nowhere to go inside the tory party. They can hand in their 48 letters, it is a completely empty threat as she won’t lose the resulting vote and will then be safe until after Brexit day.

    They have nowhere to go in the commons either: there is no majority for their version of brexit.

    The noise we have had since Friday from the tories is the same as it ever has been: the same malcontents are dragged out onto the airwaives as they have been for 20 years to say the same thing. Meanwhile most of the tory MPs avoid having to have any form of public view and instead quietly calculate how to navigate through the mess to try and ensure they retain their seat and/or further their advancement up the government ranks.

    The Filton MP, a Brexiteer who happens to have an Airbus factory in his constituency, says not a lot. Meanwhile his wife, in a Brexit voting constituency, has been very vocal. Far far too much attention is given by commentators to those making the noise and far too little to those who aren’t.

    The stakes may be a lot higher but this will end where every other European debates has ever ended in the UK: with some isolated tory backbench Ultras being unhappy with the compromise the government has struck with the EU. The parliamentary and conservative arithmetic don’t allow for anything else.

    The only difference this time is that Corbyn is a wildcard. If, when the compromise comes before parliament, he tries to vote it down just to bring down the government it will be interesting. However, can’t see labour moderates ever voting for no deal brexit – however dreadful the deal is.

    1. vlade


      Two years too late, but at least it’s pretty much ruined his chance of being a Tory leader anytime soon..

    2. vlade

      And it looks like Fox, the third Brexiteer – the one that most never heard of ;) is going too.. “: Permanent Secretary and SpAds have just been called into Liam Fox’s office at DIT”

      1. PlutoniumKun

        Looks like a syncronised slow motion walk out designed to keep everything in the headlines for a couple of days. I assume its part of a planned coup.

        1. CharlesV

          Can’t see they have the numbers or the momentum.

          During the statement it is the usual suspects saying what they’d be expected to say – everyone else quiet. No one has delivered a Geoffrey Howe attack to bring anyone else along. It’s just the ultra loons playing to their faithful.

          Davis, Boris and Fox (if he goes) don’t matter – they’ve proved they didn’t have the clout and/or brains to persuade the rest of the cabinet to go for the hardest form of brexit. All of them are shot as leadership contenders.

          Javid, Hunt or Gove saying something off script is what to look for. Hunt and Gove have come out strongly and in public. Javid has been quiet.

  15. Fiery Hunt

    And now Boris (as reported by Bloomberg) has left the pitch…

    Either they’ve finally figured out it’s a dead line or they’re straightening their crowns for a run for Head Hot Potato Holder.

  16. David

    I think the post-endgame has begun. Those resigning now can say, amidst the chaos of next year, that they fought and argued for some (any) outcome better than the one the government eventually presides over. This would be the case if there is a crash-out, but also if May is forced to accept, things that look dictated by Brussels. As always, those who are not responsible for agreements can argue that, if they had only been listened to, things would have been better, and the fairies would have sorted everything out.
    But who on earth would want Boris’s job now?

    1. vlade

      We’ll see. I’m hard pressed how they could claim they would have got a better Brexit if the UK crashes out, as after all, “let’s get out and devil take the hindmost” is their rallying cry. That said, I believe it’s likely they suspect May will cave in and stay in SM/CU (if she’d given that choice – it’s not in her gift anymore), they will be all around screaming. So Tories party will be as split or worse than it was before Dave C. tried to mend it.

      Thanks Dave, as if you didn’t know you had a bunch of lunatics on your team..

    2. PlutoniumKun

      You are probably right, although I’m suspicious of the way they timed the exits, one every few hours, seemingly intended to keep the headlines on them. If it was a genuinely principled stance, they would have gone as one.

      But as you say, they may be gambling that the best thing for them (when I say ‘them’, I mean the cabinet hardliners) is to be outside the tent when the fertiliser hits the fan, leaving them to pick up the pieces later. But its obviously for them a high risk that someone like Gove might make the running and take over relatively smoothly from May.

      But of course all those horserace talk is irrelevant to the realities of Brexit. The certainty now I think is that the EU will throw itself fully into preparing for a no-deal Brexit.

  17. Jim

    EU were never going to offer another switzerland type deal. the only viable options were:

    -Join EEA and accept all the 4 freedoms. (I think this is the best short term decision).
    -Leave EU and have a canada style free trade agreement and re-instate the northern ireland border.

    The whole last 2 years has just been politics and a total waste of time.

    1. Fazal Majid

      Even Switzerland won’t have the Swiss option much longer, it costs too much manpower to administer in Brussels.

  18. mrtmbrnmn

    Theresa Mayday Mayday’s idea of Brexit is a Brexit with no balls. Aka, a EUnuch. Ship of State be sinking!

Comments are closed.