Chili had a lucky escape

Chili can be a funny cat sometimes. He will sit by the back door meowing until someone lets him out, at which point he will dash straight round to the front of the house and start meowing until someone lets him back in.

He’s lucky that it was French European Affairs Minister, Nathalie Loiseau who thought to name her cat Brexit because of its indecisiveness.

She told French newspaper Journal du Dimanche that she named the animal after the U.K.’s EU departure because “he wakes me up every morning miaowing to death because he wants to go out, and then when I open the door he stays in the middle, undecided, and then gives me evil looks when I put him out.”

Credit it where it’s due and it’s nice to see that someone is managing to maintain a sense of humour in the face of the UK’s shambolic government. Although I have to admit to being a bit miffed at the fact that I hadn’t thought of this when we were coming up with names for the kittens.

Chili, on the other hand, should be very thankful indeed.

Brexit: All heat and no light

The media yesterday were full of Theresa May’s “crunch vote” on her Brexit deal — the same deal that was rejected earlier this year. And to no-one’s great surprise, it was rejected again, this time by 149 votes.

The press today is full of commentary as to what this all means, and so much of this is just noise.

Parliament will vote today on whether they want to exit the EU without a deal, and the expectation is that a no deal Brexit will be rejected. This amounts to little more than empty posturing and won’t change the fact that the UK is due to leave the EU on March 29th and, if no deal is agreed, the UK will crash out of the EU with no deal.

Tomorrow, assuming Parliament votes against no deal, they will all get together again to decide to request an extension to the Article 50 negotiating period. The rest of EU are already asking what would be the point of such an extension given that the UK is still unable to decide what it wants to achieve. And if there is no point to delaying Brexit, no delay will be forthcoming.

Since the Withdrawal Agreement was signed off, there have been three options on the table: Ratify the Withdrawal Agreement, crash out with no deal, or revoke Article 50 and cancel Brexit. This was the case in January, it was the case yesterday and it will still be the case tomorrow.

The ongoing mess that is Brexit has already damaged the UK. Firms are leaving the country, jobs are going to be lost and the fantasy trade deals promised by the Government aren’t going to come close to replacing any of this. If Brexit goes ahead, with a deal or without, Britain will become smaller, poorer and forced to accept any conditions imposed by any potential trading partner.

And it still won’t be over, because leaving the EU isn’t the end of this mess, it’s the start of the next one in which the UK continues to fail at everything (trade, travel, security, etc.) that could, until now, be taken for granted.

The only way to stop the mess, limit the damage and bring this whole screaming clusterfuck to an end is to revoke Article 50 and remain in the EU.

The latest Brexit shenanigans explained

I was going to post about the latest bout of slapstick in which the UK’s comedy government has been engaging. But since nothing has actually changed, and I don’t want to sit here endlessly repeating myself, I shall leave it to the satirists at NewsThump to sum up the current situation:

So right now, we’re essentially we’re waiting on an unelected ‘expert’ to decide if Theresa May’s revised deal will mean that some foreign judges in an international court could allow us to unilaterally leave a backstop that was our own idea in the first place. And if he decides it does, then the dinosaur-deniers who think gays are an abomination will help the government make it so by getting haunted Victorian apparition Jacob Rees-Mogg to support them.

Now would probably be a good time to apply for a Belgian passport.

High on Brexit

So on Tuesday evening, Theresa May won the backing of Parliament to renegotiate an agreement that isn’t up for negotiation.

I have been avoiding Brexit news a bit recently — May is still pandering to the fantasists in her own party, the rest of Parliament is refusing to engage with reality and it’s all going to go horribly wrong — but Rafael Behr came up with such a good analogy that I can’t resist:

British politics now follows the tortured pattern of addiction. Inside the addict’s head the most important thing is getting to the next Brexit fix, scoring the best deal. But from the outside, to our European friends and family, it is obvious that the problem is the compulsive pursuit of a product that does us only harm. On Tuesday night Theresa May thought she had scored: a slender majority in parliament voted for an imaginary agreement in Brussels, stripped of the hated “backstop”. Tory Eurosceptic ultras and the DUP pledged conditional allegiance to the prime minister if she delivers “alternative arrangements” for a seamless border on Northern Ireland. But no one has any idea what those might be and the EU has already ruled out a renegotiation on terms that might satisfy the hardliners. The transient buzz of Tory unity will yield to the chilly comedown of Brexit reality, as it always does.

Understanding what the political class thinks it’s doing with regards Brexit has become pretty much impossible. Politicians argue among themselves over procedural manoeuvrers and clever ploys all designed to ensure that their preferred unicorn is the unicorn everyone will receive just as soon as Britain completes its trade deal with Narnia.

The press is not much better, reporting on the Westminster soap opera almost entirely in terms of who has what advantage in which party, and completely ignoring any wider consequences.

It’s not all Parliamentary fun and games. As Chris Grey points out:

Whilst all this is going on, there is some really serious damage being done. As has been planned for a while, the European Medicines Agency has moved from London to Amsterdam. With it will go not only 900 jobs but a central part of the ecosystem of the pharmaceutical and biomedical industries – which are strategically crucial for the UK and in which the UK has been a leading global player. It’s worth recalling that in April 2017 the first Brexit Secretary, David Davis, opined that there should be no reason why it couldn’t stay in Britain post-Brexit. Like so many other Brexiter claims, it was known to be nonsense by experts but their knowledge was dismissed and mocked.

We now have companies spending huge amounts of money on stockpiling goods in warehouses in case of there being no deal, and almost every day brings news of another company moving its Headquarters out of Britain. The entire P&O fleet is to be re-registered in Cyprus. A group of leading food retailers has written a letter to MPs warning in stark terms of the dangers of food shortages. In any other time that would be seen as extraordinary. Now, it barely survives one day of the news cycle. And, of course, as with every other warning it is immediately trashed as Project Fear or, with the cynicism of the unworldly, as an excuse by supermarkets to unnecessarily raise prices.

Meanwhile, in Europe, Margot Wallström sums up what is increasingly the attitude of the rest of the EU to the UK’s antics:

She called Britain’s approach to the issue “dangerous” and “badly handled,” adding “I just think that they’ve made such a historical mistake and they’ve really created a problem for all of us.”

The rest of the EU is fed up with Britain and the way in which the British political class has behaved over the past two years. They are exasperated and exhausted and are reaching the point — if they haven’t reached it already — of telling Britain to stop wasting any more time and just go.

Tellingly, the rest of the EU is also a lot better prepared for Britain crashing out with no deal than Britain is.

Whatever you think of Brexit, the way that both of the major UK parties have approached it has been both incompetent and dishonest and has reduced Britain to a laughing stock. And still, too many MPs and too many commenters are unable to bring themselves to admit that the country is wilfully rushing towards an utter disaster and that none of these Parliamentary shenanigans will do anything to avert this.

Personally, I think that Article 50 should be revoked and the whole mess brought to a halt. Alternatively, you can recognise that the withdrawal agreement negotiated by Theresa May is the only deal available given the red lines that May herself has drawn.

These are the only options and Parliament needs to recognise this and make a decision. Preferably sooner rather than later.

Change the default

With Brexit looming ever closer, the prospect of Britain crashing out of the EU with no deal looks increasingly probable. MPs keep on saying that they don’t want to crash out, but as things stand this is the default position: Britain leaves the EU on 29th March and if, as looks likely, Parliament fails to make a decision then that exit is going to be both disorderly and extremely damaging.

Spinning Hugo suggests, therefore, that the most vital step now is to change the default.

The government cannot rule out no deal Brexit, that requires legislation. Further as a matter of Parliamentary tactics it may wish not to do so as the only way of applying pressure to obtain more support is to leave no deal Brexit as the default.

However, unlike all other options, there should be a majority in Parliament for an amendment to the European Union (Withdrawal) Act along these lines.

X. Duty to revoke notification of withdrawal from the EU

(1) If Y days before exit day no approval of the outcome of negotiations with the EU has occurred in conformity with section 13 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, the Prime Minister shall notify the European Council of the United Kingdom’s revocation of its intention to withdraw from the European Union under Article 50(2) of the Treaty on the European Union.

(2) Upon such notification, the sections of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 specified in schedule Z shall be repealed

Schedule Z

1 For the purpose of section X(2), the relevant sections are [all of them except 13].

This would make Remain the default result. This should obtain the support of all those who favour a Labour led Brexit, a referendum, and May’s deal over no deal Brexit. It enables all those who favour the only Withdrawal Agreement there will ever be to say “I backed the government’s deal to achieve that” whilst avoiding a no deal Brexit.

Clearly, neither the Government nor the opposition will table such an amendment, so it falls to the saner backbench MPs in Parliament to propose and support such an amendment as a matter of urgency.

This could well prove to be Britain’s only way out of this mess.

On Brexit

I was listening to the radio this morning and, inevitably enough, they were discussing the prospect of Theresa May’s deal passing and the consequences of it being rejected. The (Labour) MP being interviewed was asked if he was worried about rejecting the deal leading to the UK crashing out of the EU with no deal.

His answer was symptomatic of a fundamental problem with all of the Brexit discussions in the UK in that he blithely asserted that a no deal wouldn’t happen because Parliament doesn’t want it to happen.

This is all well and good but the MP in question appears to have no comprehension that the UK is not the only party in these negotiations. The other EU member states, as well as the European Parliament all have their own priorities and concerns and are not going to offer anything that crosses their own lines.

Parliament can demand that the Prime Minister goes back to Brussels to ask for more, but there is nothing else on the table and no matter what she does, May is going to come back empty handed.

If May’s deal is rejected, no deal is the default option and Parliament would need to decide to do something in order to avoid it. And quickly.

As things stand, the UK will leave the EU on 29th March regardless of whether a deal is agreed it not. This leaves only two months to either revoke the Article 50 notification or ask for an extension of the negotiation period.

Just asking for an extension doesn’t mean that it will be granted. The EU27 have been quite clear that the current agreement is the only one on the table. They are not willing to reopen negotiations — especially given that Britain still doesn’t know what it wants to achieve. Not to put too fine a point on it, the rest of the EU is thoroughly fed up with the behaviour of the UK and have reached the point at which they just want the whole sorry mess to be over.

EU countries are preparing for a no deal Brexit.

An extension to ratify the deal or run another referendum may be possible but even here, time is limited.

The European Parliament Elections are in May and the new Parliament will meet for the first time in July. If the UK is still chasing it’s own tail at this point the EU will have to deal with the legal difficulties arising from the UK being in the EU but with no MEPs.

The UK’s approach to Brexit so far has been defined by isolationist and wishful thinking. If — as looks certain — May’s deal is rejected, MPs and the press will need to recognise that, because of the incompetent manner in which the UK has approached this, the available options are now very limited indeed.

No deal. No Brexit

So this is interesting:

MPs will attempt to force the government to return with an alternative to Theresa May’s Brexit deal within three days of her plan being defeated in parliament.

MPs are planning to table an amendment to a business motion that anticipates Theresa May’s deal being rejected and says: “a minister of the crown shall table within three sitting days a motion … considering the process of exiting the European Union under article 50”. This is to prevent the government from sitting on their hands after the expected defeat and then resubmitting the deal once time has run out for all other options.

Obviously, the amendment may not make it into the bill, but if it does, just letting the clock tick down ceases to be an option. But there aren’t many other options out there.

The EU have made clear that they are not willing to re-open negotiations into the withdrawal agreement and, even if that was not the case, anyone who tells you they can renegotiate this in the two and a half months left to go is either dishonest or delusional.

I don’t see the EU agreeing to extend the Article 50 negotiation period unless the UK suddenly comes up with a very clear idea of what they are trying to achieve. So we can rule that option out, unless the government that they really do want to put the existing options (May’s deal, no deal or no Brexit) to the public in a second (third, if you count 1975) referendum.

And if time runs out for a referendum, then the only option I can see is for Parliament to decide to revoke the Article 50 notification itself and cancel Brexit.

The hard Brexiters have broken their own Brexit. It remains to be seen whether Parliament will finally take back control.

Sane Conservative says something sane

The Guardian reports that Chris Patten, the former Conservative party chairman is the latest Tory grandee to come out in support of a second Brexit referendum, or People’s vote.

What struck me, though, was this:

The whole sorry shambles began with a decision to call a referendum in order to try to manage the English nationalist right wing of the Conservative party.

I have said it before, but the main problem with the Conservative Party is that most of its members — and a significant proportion of its MPs — are not conservatives. The One-Nation Tories and pragmatists have been largely sidelined by a post-1980s crop of rabid libertarians and English nationalists.

And it’s because the Tories have discovered ideology that Britain is in the mess it is today.

No-deal Brexit ferry company owns no ships and has never run Channel service

The above headline comes from The Guardian, via Liberal England and sums up the the state of the UK’s Brexit preparations.

One of the companies contracted by the government to charter ferries in the event of a no-deal Brexit does not own any ships, has not previously operated a ferry service and is not planning to do so until close to the UK’s scheduled departure date from the European Union, it has emerged.

Concerns have been raised about Seaborne Freight, which was awarded a £13.8m contract to operate freight ferries from Ramsgate to the Belgian port of Ostend if the UK leaves the EU without a deal, after a councillor for the Kent town queried whether it would be possible to set up the new service by the scheduled Brexit date.

The government has signed three such agreements — without a tendering process — in order to ease congestion on the Dover-Calais crossing in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

The thing is that the ports of Dover and Calais have, over the past forty years, become really efficient when it comes to handling large quantities of cargo. Neither Ramsgate nor Ostend will come close to making any difference to the cross-channel congestion at all.

This is probably why the government’s delusional plans are so dependent on a delusional company that has no ships and no trading history.

Strong and stable

To the surprise of no-one, Theresa May won last night’s confidence vote by 200 votes to 117. Equally unsurprisingly, the leaders of the other 27 EU countries have welcomed her survival, but are not going to re-open the withdrawal negotiations. As far as they are concerned, the deal is agreed, needs to be ratified before the end of March and needs to be in place before the European Parliament elections in May.

May’s problem remains unchanged: She failed to build any sort of consensus over Brexit in the early part of her premiership by pandering to the extreme wing of the Tory party. By the time she realised how damaging and incoherent her initial position had been, divisions had become so entrenched that any hope of agreement had long gone.

The agreement she has reached is probably the best way out of the mess she created, but it satisfies no-one and, crucially, no-one feels under any obligation to support it.

So for all the hyperventilating in the press, nothing has changed. Possibly.

For the past two years, May, like many Conservative leaders before her has been running scared of the hardliners in her own party. But now they have shown their hand and confirmed both that they will never support her and they are unable to bring her down. So now she has an opportunity to face them down. There are several things she could do.

Firstly, she should come clean about the fact that neither she, nor anyone else, is going to achieve any significant changes to the Withdrawal agreement and that the Irish backstop is necessary because of her own red lines.

Given these facts, and her evident commitment to the deal she has struck, May’s most obvious course of action would be to call a referendum with a straightforward choice: ‘My deal or Remain’. The Moggites will kick up a fuss, of course, but they have demonstrated that they can’t put up. So she should have the confidence — and does have the support within her party — to tell them to shut up. I know she’s always dismissed having another referendum out of hand, but one more u-turn isn’t going to make much difference for her.

Alternatively, she could leave the deal as is, and announce that she wants to achieve the so-called Norway Plus relationship with the EU. This might require some changes to the political declaration, but this could be easily done and allows her to stay consistent with her repeated assertion that Parliament must deliver on the referendum result. Of course, she would have to abandon her hostility to freedom of movement, but this is another red line that is causing her problems while winning her no friends.

Personally, I think it would be better for Parliament to admit that the claims made by the Brexit bunch during the referendum were, at best, inconsistent and delusional, that the promised benefits of Brexit are unachievable, that the whole thing should be called off, and then revoke the Article 50 notification. Realistically, I don’t see this happening — it would require a little too much taking back of control for Parliament.

Either of these scenarios would involve May recognising that the Brexit wing of her party will never be satisfied and cannot be relied upon. She would, therefore, need to build a Parliamentary consensus across sane Tories, the moderate wing of the Labour party, the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru and the Green. Even the DUP may support the Norway option since it avoids crossing their red line of no divergence between Norther Ireland and the rest of the UK.

The numbers are there and enough MPs are worried enough about the consequences of Brexit that a sufficiently skilled and patient parliamentarian could assemble a cross-party majority specifically to avoid the rapidly approaching cliff edge.

Is Theresa May the leader to achieve this?

Probably not.