Three things about Brexit

2nd July 2017

Since the referendum vote last summer for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, three things have become apparent.

First, Brexit will be complex, not simple.

Second, the UK government is not (or is not currently) equal to the task of Brexit.

Third, regardless of the difficulties, the UK government is in any case making it worse for itself, to the extent it seems almost that it is self-sabotaging the whole process.

I do not claim any originality for these three insights; I just wanted to jot them down here, in one place.


33 thoughts on “Three things about Brexit”

  1. 4th. Sabotaged to such an extent that an incoming Lab Gov.(Nov ?)
    completes the balls up.
    5th. A returning Tory Gov., squeaky clean, new leader, fresh faces & ideas returns us to the EU fold.


    1. Perhaps… obviously those are political points rather than legal observations.

      To make that possible though, in my opinion the Conservative Party would need to split into a pro-EU/ free-trade party and a nationalist/ tough immigration party. I’d expect the Conservative name to belong to the nationalist of those two parties.

      The FPTP system in the UK likely makes such a split so unpalatable they’ll fight it out internally instead of this. Either way, such a strategy would more than likely hand the next election to a stronger (united?) established party, i.e another Labour win.

      1. I will offer a layman’s opinion: solicitors do see self-sabotaging clients.

        So it’s not quite a legal opinion, but it’s an interesting professional observation: and I would be quite interested in hearing any comments from the older and experienced solicitors here might offer on that type of client.

        I’ll put it bluntly: I have the choice of walking away if ever I am asked to work for deluded berks. Solicitors are sometimes obliged to do the work, and they have a duty to do it well.

        They also get to see how badly a negotiation can go wrong, despite their best efforts, when one of the parties is worse than a fool.

  2. The question is whether the self-sabotaging is deliberate – in which case is it aiming for simply crashing out (to set up a low tax, low regulation, low rights economy) or throwing in the towel saying it’s all too complicated and expensive (because they now realise Brexit is a disaster for the UK) – or sheer incompetence. Does Hanlon’s Razor apply?

    1. Hanlon’s razor is an aphorism expressed in various ways including “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity” or “Don’t assume bad intentions over neglect and misunderstanding.”

  3. When you’ve hacked big chunks out of the civil service and terrorised the rest with “advisors”, any massively complex task like Brexit is doomed to chaos. Politicians alone can achieve nothing.

  4. Spot on. What worries me is that the Leavers people seem to think it is all about trade whereas for me the EU is about much more, starting with peace and international cooperation on matters better done together. And friendship, understanding etc.

    1. That clearly isn’t what the EU thinks it is about. It is very clearly about creating a European superstate. And in that state there is no “co-operation”, or “matters better done together”. As Greece has found out, there are simply instructions to be complied with.

      1. Exactly right.
        We and others in the community would remain as surfs to the Eu dictatorial elite. No say in anything and used to their advantage. Modern day slavery.

        1. You’ve been brainwashed into this belief. There is no EU superstate. It’s a common trading area with simple rules to govern it. All your MEPs are elected. There’s no loss of sovereignty. We’re in a controlling position in the largest trading bloc on the planet. But soon. You won’t be. An tiny island in a small sea. The world is moving my friends. You gonna be on the train or stand at the station with your hands in your pockets?

        2. “Modern day slavery.” Erm, as analogies go, that’s rather overcooking it. How about a club with rules that sometimes don’t go your way? That seems a better fit. The frenzied Leaver’ inability to distinguish between an international authority that runs on shaved sovereignty and actual dictatorship (read the wikipedia entry for Uzbekistan if you need some more pointers…) marks them out as poor scholars…

  5. What’s so maddening about the whole thing is there’s zero clarity of what either the Tories or Labour actually regard as an acceptable end-state for Brexit as a process. If you assume they’re not so cravenly stupid as to believe a super-hard no-deal Brexit is desirable then you have to believe that they want to try to recreate much of what we already have, in mid-air so to speak. This should be called out for the madness it is. Both May and Corbyn’s teams seem to describe a nothing-changes, but all-is-changed fantasy that the EU shows no signs of offering, and wouldn’t be possible in the timescales involved in any case. I genuinely feel like the political class has zero grasp of how dangerous this moment is.

    1. Hear, hear! The politicians seem to be living in a parallel universe. Perhaps it’s because a generation of the best minds went into business and technology rather than politics. David Runciman wrote about this a couple of years ago.

    2. Disagree. They are negotiating. It is perfectly reasonable to be unreasonable in your expectations in the early stages of a negotiation.

      1. Have you ever been involved in a large and complex negotiation? One with pre-existing contraints on all parties and points of both contention and cooperation rather than a simple two-way split?

        The trick is to present a facade of openness and cooperative goodwill – and the more points of contention and potential acrimony, the more there is to gain by a positive facade and an agreeable working relationship.

        If you’re the weaker party in the negotiations, goodwill goes a long way to gaining an acceptable agreement, rather than ‘take it or leave it’ and terrible terms that you end up having to accept.

        Above all: be open about the things you can be open about, and be closed and ‘hold your cards close to the chest’ only on areas of avoidable contention, and where there are dangerous weaknesses that you don’t want the other parties to use against you.

        A negotiating party who is all ‘closed up’ and contentious from the very start is signalling that their negotiating position consists of nothing but weaknesses – points on which they face the certainty of being forced to concede serious losses – and, worse, they are signalling that they have nothing positive to offer the other parties.

        1. We have already been down the “openness and co-operation” route with the renegotiation. It didn’t work. Which is why we are at the “non co-operate” stage.

          All the discussion in the UK is, inevitably, about the UK; how we should negotiate, what kind of Brexit we should have. But there are two parties in this, and IMHO the EU have thoroughly cocked this up. They have gambled thinking they could give little in the renegotiation and still win, and have ended up losing as the UK will now not agree to anything that looks remotely like control from Brussels.

  6. Quite so.

    I’d add these on top:

    The bulk of lawmakers are abdicating their responsibility to think, and to govern sensibly, and are just following their leader. As a justification for their actions (their votes in parliament), they invoke the leaders’ will or supposed master plan (as in an absolutist country), who in turn invokes “the people” (as in a demagogic country, or as communists have done for decades).

    Second, this starts to look as a collective punishment. The politicians act as if they don’t care about people’s welfare or well-being, they only care about taking the referendum result very literally, making it very black and white, and imposing, irrevocable. Tories tell the country: “You voted for Brexit at any cost, we’ll give you Brexit at any cost” (and Corbyn goes along because he’d rather see any Brexit taking place -even if, or preferably if, he’s not the one executing it- than no Brexit).

    Third, the government doesn’t seem to have any intention whatsoever of negotiating sensibly or achieving anything resembling a deal. They’d prefer to procrastinate and antagonize, till the day arrives that membership of the Union and the treaties expire, and nothing takes its place. If the EU team actually does any work, they’ll sometimes decry it as unfair to the UK and oppose it (e.g., the exit bill), and sometimes allow it to happen reluctantly (e.g., amendments to migrants’ rights), just never engage constructively.

    It all seems to be headed for a hard Brexit, because the more time they waste now, the less time they’ll have later to negotiate concessions and advantages for the UK. At which point, in the course of the last few months, panic will set in, and there will be another election, and perhaps more than one election. But that will solve nothing, because if another referendum is held and won by Leave, there will be a hard Brexit (just as we’re headed to now), and if won by Remain, there will be massive Leave demonstrations across the country and and riots and social unrest and political chaos (and in fact fear of this happening will become the strongest argument against holding a second referendum).

    The most optimistic scenario under a Tory government seeks an extension to the negotiations past the first two years that the Europeans approve – which kicks the can down the road – but the Europeans will make it clear, that the UK will have fewer benefits and concessions than it has now in all areas it remains part of the EU (a step back in many respects, the price imposed on having attempted to leave and the condition for the Europeans to agree to an extension), and in the areas it doesn’t remain in the EU, subject to tariffs and international markets difficulty, and, isolated, having to deal with powerful countries and blocks (the US, China) who will force the UK to sign any deal on their terms — or no deal — and the UK will be weakened and forever poorer.

    There’s only one way out: The Tories going for another election and losing power, and the new Labour-LibDem-SNP coalition convincing the Europeans that they’d like to withdraw Article 50 “for now” (really meaning indefinitely, ‘until further notice’), until another, more sensible referendum may be held. And the Europeans agreeing since it’s a new government (a ‘sane’ government?) and thinking A50 won’t be invoked ever again. Then the coalition procrastinating on calling a second referendum for a very long time, possibly even beyond their first term in office, till the UK finds a way to deal with the EU as a parliamentary democracy – not as a referendum-led country – and negotiate changes from within, if they really must.

    Labour on their own (Corbyn on his own) wouldn’t want to stop Brexit, but would do if their coalition partners make them. The Tories (or Tories-DUP) would never stop Brexit. And if Brexit is not stopped, it will never bring any good, the only difference is one of degree, really how bad it is.

    In my opinion however, the fact that geographically most of the country voted Leave (counting square miles not people except for parts of Scotland), will be in the end the main reason why there will be Brexit. The country would have voted by size and extension, not head count, or mostly territory not population.

    1. Well put! I guess the Tories’ main difficulty is that in essence Brexit isn’t really a corrective to a real-world problem. It’s more a faith-based intervention, or a kind of metaphysical goal that can’t be reduced to individual, achievable policies or objectives. To this extent we’re all about screwed because I can’t see how they can compromise without feeling they’ve failed. And without compromise much of how our economy operates will be damaged in the medium term.

      This is also why Corbyn shouldn’t be forgiven for not pivoting to a post-election Brexit policy that has more achievable meaning that ‘a jobs Brexit’ (Anyone any idea on that? Nope, thought not!). Without detail on where you’re prepared to compromise, everything quickly becomes a cliff-edge…

    2. You have your views and others have theirs. Nothing you have said has convinced me differently other than to LEAVE. And, contrary to your beliefs, it wasn’t a minority who voted OUT.
      Now is the time for Britain to leave the EU. It has been a disasterous political union that was doomed to failure without fiscal unity which would never be achieved. Greece and Italy are prime examples of impoverished countries unable to pay their debts continually being propped up by the ECB who print 84 billion euros every month in Quantitative Easing to save the EU.
      Now tell me, Do you really want to stay a part in a closer Union with EU? Count me OUT.

      1. As ever with Leavers you’ve huffed and puffed, made some invidious but inaccurate comparisons (we weren’t in the Euro remember?), and asserted that ever-closer union had a fixed and threatening meaning. What you haven’t done, as they never seem to do, is explain how leaving the single market would work without damaging trade, food, research, flow of capital, investment, patent system, etc etc. But doesn’t matter does it? Because Leaving Feels So Good (if you don’t think about the details involved). Clearly we can count you out (see you at the back of the queue at the airport I guess), but for the political class this isn’t achievable as a hissy-fit. It has to work. It has to be practical. And it mustn’t damage the UK (spoilers: it’s already damaging the UK). So get off your sovereignty high horse and think about the specifics.

        1. Where did I say that we were in the euro? And as no one in our government or the EU has set out any pre-requisite terms about the timing and details of the talks, how can anyone else. We await the results of the preliminary talks before schedule bargaining events takes place.
          Yes I do believe there will be changes, there will have to be, But ‘You can’t make an omelette without first breaking eggs.’ Not leaving and being a part of the EU will be the greater danger for Britain’s future.

          1. You alluded to the predicament of the poorer nations in the Euro’s tribulations with the ECB, a function of the shared currency (and admittedly, not a positive outcome of currency integration, I’ll give you that!).

            But seriously? The eggs/omelette analogy? That’s enough for you to cover the mindboggling difficulties ahead? That, for you, feels like a responsible position to sell to the public? “Sure an enormous number of businesses will de-invest, move capital, suffer appalling bureaucratic controls at the borders, sack employees, cripple our nuclear industry, car industry, food production industry, lower our currency and our tax take for about a decade… but, y’know… omelettes and eggs guys… It’s gonna be ace the other side, m’kay”

            Because that appears to be your (and the Tory Brexit headbangers) position.

  7. Jack, how right you are. A major contributor to the present “total shambles and guaranteed debacle” (to use Dominic Cummings’ fruity phrase) was May’s decision to appoint Davis, Johnson and Fox as her implementation team. How much experience do they have of international trade negotiations? Davis hasn’t even costed the impact of the UK resorting to WTO terms.

  8. It is true that nothing much has happened yet except the lack of direction has caused a slow down, higher inflation and reduced growth but we have no agreed negotiating position for the EU Brexit. The best way would be to get on with whatever a Governments decides to do. The government finds that since the referendum we are not certain what we want, but we don’t like what we have been offered much and a new election could make their support worse. However MP still want to deliver the will-of-the-people as defined by the Daily Mail and Express, however incoherent the understanding of this was or still is by voters. We didn’t apparently vote for a shambles though many predicted that could be the result. Leadership is now required to form a new consensus. Is Corbyn the man to provided with the help of Len McC? If not who is? Would a new referendum provide a new or confirmed decision which could be delivered by a Government with more confidence? Dunno, I guess it all very complicated; experts seem to starting to be in favour with Mr Gove at least. There must be some somewhere to sort this out.

  9. Voting to leave is like voting for great healthcare at a fraction of the cost. (See the US for details).

    The vote to leave was not the key vote. The important hurdle to be cleared is when politicians have a deal they have to vote on.

    That deal is almost certainly to be to pay the EU £30 to £87bn at a time when we are suffering a crisis of funding, with a guarantee we will all be worse off over many years and we are experiencing labour shortages which have made people sanguine about immigration.

    Also we have seen public opinion has already swung back to remain and if you draw the trend into the time of the Brexit vote it doesn’t look good for leaving.

    We all remember the price parties paid for the Poll Tax, the Iraq War and tuition fees.

    Given those experiences, what are the chances of a majority of MP’s voting for the biggest political albatross in history when the majority (by that time a large majority) of the people don’t want it any more?

    The interesting thing now is to watch the politicians gradually change the words they use to shift away from the whole thing.

    This was always likely to be the case, but the utter lack of competence displayed by all leave politicians and their fundamental inability to create a coherent narrative about what brexit should be or what the benefits are going to be hastened the doom of the project considerably.

    1. I couldn’t agree more !!! The consequences of leaving were never properly explained before the vote … it’s not simply a question of how much the UK was contributing as a member but how much trade was going on between the UK and Europe that really counts!!

  10. Nothing infuriates me more than people pointing at a colored map and saying that has anything to do with which way a vote went, or how much support something has. I was under the impression that people vote not land.

    1. I would love, in this dreadful world, for this also to be the one thing which infuriated me most. You have my envy.

  11. Please do not, even in jest, suggest that Michael Gove should even be considered as an alternative to the present abysmal brexit team or as PM. Five years it took him to alienate the educationalists and destroy much of what was excellent in our education system. Ignoring the ‘experts’ [I know he doesn’t believe in experts] to the detriment of all. Just think what he could do in his negotiations with the EU!

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