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May’s Brexit… January 17, 2017

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.

Where does that apostrophe go? Where is ejh when I need him? Anyhow, in some ways it’s refreshing to hear, straight from the horse’s mouth as it were, an outline of what Brexit means. That it has taken near enough nine months is less refreshing, the chaos on confusion in the interim period far from refreshing. But at least that which was unclear or at least not clear enough is now clearer. GW noted the following in comments:

So I think it’s now clearer after May’s speech.
The border that runs through Ireland will be a customs border and an immigration border.
This has enormous impact on both parts of Ireland.
There are three possibilities that I can see.
a) The maintenance of the border restrictions are outsourced to the RoI with free movement between the two juristictions.
b) NI is made an exceptional case within the ‘UK’, with free movement between the two parts of the island and borders policed by the UK in NI Airports and Ferryports.
c) A hard border is set up again with police, immigration and customs controls.
The position for EU citizens (including Irish nationals) living in the UK is less clear but it’s certain their rights to work and stay there will be reduced.
And England is on collision course with Scotland on the relationship with EU.

I’ll return to the Irish situation, but one thing is for sure, Britain is out of the single market – hardly a surprise. They’re not going the EEA/EFTA route. There probably won’t be a bespoke arrangement. The best that can be hoped for are bilateral deals – her ‘comprehensive and bold free trade agreement’. Sounds a bit bockety, we’ll see how that works out. I’m always dubious about May’s propensity to add in words like ‘bold’ etc as if she’s channeling a 1950s English children’s book. I’m no less dubious today.

The customs union? As the Guardian notes, here she was less clear.

But she also said: “I do want a customs agreement with the EU” and for Britain to have tariff-free access to EU markets. That could mean a completely new customs union agreement, or partial membership, or retaining some aspects – how this would happen in practice can be decided.

I’ll bet this will be up for grabs.

Immigration. There are so many strands to this. She said that …

….while wanting to continue to atrract “the brightest and best to study and work in Britain”, she said, “we will get control over number of people coming to Britain form the EU”.


Of course, as GW notes, there’s a specific Irish twist to this. We’ll see how that pans out. As the Guardian says there’s nothing about the EU citizens in the UK or vice versa.

But on Ireland, notable in the Guardian overview was a complete lack of attention to Ireland (bar a fleeting reference to NI elections). We just don’t register. Her comments though, as quoted in the IT will not necessary instil confidence:

Outlining the UK’s plans for leaving the EU, Ms May said the UK government would “make it a priority to deliver a practical solution” as quickly as possible to the question of the land Border with the Irish State.
“Nobody wants to return to the borders of the past,” said the prime minister on Tuesday .
“The family ties and bonds of affection that unite our two countries mean that there will always be a special relationship between us.” She added that maintaining the common travel area with the Republic would be “an important part of the talks”

Sure, no one wants a return. But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. How can she square non participation in the single market with an open border with the RoI? I don’t know, do you?

Michael Portillo opined in advance of the speech that Ireland would be treated like a single entity in relation to Britain – with controls outside of it. How does he know? Is he a credible person to make that assertion?

And still the relentless drumbeat of British exceptionalism and British entitlement:

…she also warned the EU 27 firmly against heeding “voices calling for a punitive deal that punishes Britain and discourages other countries from taking the same path”, saying that would be “an act of calamitous self-harm for the countries of Europe. And it would not be the act of a friend.”
She also stressed that “no deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain”, hinting that Britain might be willing to leave the EU with no trade deal in place, and revert to trading with the EU on World Trade Organisation terms.
And she repeated Hammond’s threat, saying that if Britain does not get access to the single market while at the same time being free to strike trade deals across the world, it would “be free to change the basis of Britain’s economic model”.

But this is barmy. As someone btl noted it takes two to make a trade agreement, it just can’t be settled on Britain’s terms. Yet everything she said was predicated precisely on that view.

So what has changed? Not much. She has made noises about participation in some EU programmes and even paying for access – where necessary. But I wonder how that works in practice. Just simple logistics suggest that such participation will be low key and kept quiet about.

Ed notes in comments that:

Chances of Scottish independence just went up alright. The polls since the referendum haven’t been showing a solid majority for breaking with London, a lot of Scots seem reluctant to make that leap into the dark, but if it’s made crystal-clear to them that staying in the UK means being dragged down into the mire with Trump and Netanyahu as your only international allies, I could see the vote hardening up pretty fast.

Brexit will occur. That is almost entirely certain. It will involve massive rupture. Its economic consequences are incalculable but the consensus appears to be that they will be largely, if not indeed overwhelmingly, negative for British workers and citizens. It throws up borders, both actual and figurative, between states and between people – indeed those last have, as noted on this site across months now and underscored by the direct personal experience of contributors in the UK, been rising higher and higher. It may trigger the break up of the UK itself as political entity. It has marginalised a left that was beginning in the UK to reassert itself once more. It promises nothing but problems for this island. This is their great ‘opportunity’. This is their ‘vision’.


1. Michael Carley - January 17, 2017

And this just in from Britain First:


Starkadder - January 17, 2017

What a nasty bunch, Are they planning to turn Wembley Stadium into the UK version of the Badajoz Bullring?


2. lcox - January 17, 2017

Just wanted to enter a slight note of doubt re “Brexit will occur. That is almost entirely certain.” No question that this is what they are saying and doing. It fits with May’s anti-immigration instincts (and the way she has floated to the top) and is being taken as given reality by most media and LP, major unions etc.

But: two years is a long time in politics, as we have seen pretty recently on this particular issue. Right now most MPs feel it would be political suicide to oppose Brexit and as noted here recently opinion polls haven’t shifted much since the referendum. But they do also show greater doubts about Brexit if it comes to cost people personally beyond a certain point, and some of those costs may come sooner rather than later. Things could look very different when it comes to asking parliament to approve whatever the actual outcome of negotiations is.

The elephant in the room is the interests of capital – it has been axiomatic for as long as I can remember that British policy is dictated by the City of London and if ever there was a result that the City did not like it was this. Some of that *may* be being made good in recent days with comments both from Verhofstadt (I think) and Hammond (the latter more of a threat) but it does look as though Brexit will cost the City dear even if the landing is a crash rather than in flames. More widely the forces which have pushed for intensified free trade haven’t gone away even if they have lost their popular majority – and a couple of friendly tweets from Trump do not yet a new global economic order make.

A last thought: Tory politics at present is very short-term and self-centred, lacking much by way of real long-term strategy. May is equally well served if she gets to 2019 unscathed as PM and the vote goes against her (actually that would make her look pretty good in some ways) or for that matter if someone approaches her quietly and offers her a juicy directorship or two in return for shafting the project (consider the amount of money hanging on whether Brexit happens and how and it is hard to imagine that some approaches are not being made in some quarters, however deniably and indirectly). This isn’t something her whole life has been leading up to, it is a procession that she has put herself at the head of rather late in the day. Her goal *may* be to go down in history books as the woman who brought Brexit, but it may equally be to stay PM for as long as possible or just to move onto the next good thing with as much of a cushion as possible. I wouldn’t overestimate the entrenched desire to see Brexit at all costs, whatever the verbiage.

This may all be wishful thinking obviously but in a situation where it is felt by the political class to be suicidal to doubt Brexit, it is hard to assess what costs those involved are really willing to take on its behalf if the going gets a bit tougher.


WorldbyStorm - January 17, 2017

That’s very interesting, I suppose it is possible big and small capital may step in but national chauvinism of the type we are seeing is tenacious, and in the case of the UK deep rooted. Perhaps it will be a softer Brexit clothed in the rhetorical garb of a harder Brexit but it’s not looking good, and what of the cost. I do agree that events are moving quickly and much may change but I’d put good money on the Tories winning the next election.


lcox - January 17, 2017

I would put more money on the Tories winning the next election than on the policy platform they will nominally be winning on…


ivorthorne - January 18, 2017

Brexit is not in the interests of capital but it may be in the interests of key capitalists. If you place a bet on turkeys to vote for Christmas, you’ll get good odds. If you can then convince the turkeys to vote that way, you’ll make a killing.

Remember Rupert Murdoch’s explanation for why he hated the EU? If you own the influencers in Britain, the return of “sovereignty” means that those influencers just increased in value.

Having said that, the question of how the opposition reacts is key. Scotland will play a role. Will the potential loss of Scotland – in the middle of a referendum campaign – be enough to jolt the Remainers in the main British parties out of their slumber? Will Labour react to the loss of access to the single market as the spectre of job losses becomes more real?

Most British politicians and key interest groups know that Brexit is an idiotic and harmful idea but they also know that beinf seen to disregard the votes of a people is bad for optics – especially given that the press were already pretty hostile to them. If they can come up with a narrative that gives them sufficient cover against the Leave camp, they may reappear.

Liked by 1 person

GW - January 18, 2017

Good points, icox.

It had crossed my mind that the vote after the agreement or lack of an agreement is published in, probably, spring 2019 may have been a way of backing out.

As you rightly say two years is a long time in politics, but can you really see any Tories (supported by the DUP) voting the government position down at the moment?

Had she been serious about a chance to back out at the last moment she would have put the agreement to another referendum, as the Lib Dems demand. But that would be rather too democratic, and lead to a split in the Tory party. And one thing that comes before all else is avoiding splits in the Tory parties. c.f. Brexit itself.

In that aspect the right always trumps the left.

And I’m not sure the larger parts of capital with British(English) interests can’t be wooed by a promise of Singaporean-style authoritarian state combined with no social costs (i.e. taxes etc.) of doing business. I doubt whether such a model would fly in the British case, but you can see the attraction of the illusion, from their point of view.


lcox - January 18, 2017

Hi GW,

No question that right now Tories won’t vote the govt down. In two years, faced with a concrete agreement, who knows? Though there may well be much searching for a scapegoat if there is a general will for it to fail at that point.

I don’t think May is necessarily serious about anything very much beyond herself. If Brexit goes ahead, well and good from her POV, she goes down in history and apres moi le deluge. If Brexit doesn’t come together despite her best efforts, I’m not convinced she would care deeply so long as she either stays in power or has something nice to move on to. Of course trying hard and failing in a way that removed the question from the table for a while would also keep the Tories together and by that point UKIP may be much less of a threat, the Tories having stolen their clothing.

The behaviour of the Brexiteers post-referendum is I think sufficient indication of just how far we are talking about strategically minded statesmen and -women with an eye to the future of anything very much. As is, I think, the handwaving when it comes to discussing the concrete mechanics of Brexit – it is at best wishful thinking from people who are much more concerned about how they profile themselves now than what the actual longer-term outcome is.


3. CL - January 17, 2017

‘ Ms. May set the future of the border and any arrangements with the island of Ireland in the context of Britain’s determination to control immigration and defend its borders.

“It is difficult to see how this can be accomplished without significant changes to the current border arrangements.’ -Gerry Adams.


sonofstan - January 17, 2017

They really think we’ll do their immigration control for them. (sadly, it’s possible we might)


WorldbyStorm - January 17, 2017



6to5against - January 18, 2017

We may well do their non EU immigration control for them, but we can’t do the EU control. Everybody coming here from within the EU will have right of entry. We can’t change that without leaving ourselves.

But the thing is, do they really care?

As long as the Daily Mail is happy, will anybody in London worry about Eastern Europeans wandering around Belfast.


ivorthorne - January 18, 2017

“What’s a Belfast?”

Liked by 1 person

WorldbyStorm - January 18, 2017

That’s a great point 6to5against, for all the rhetoric it is noticeable how little attention there is to the North. And I’ll bet that if that becomes a ‘problem’ it will be perceived as an Irish problem, not a British one.


GW - January 18, 2017

If FG (with tacit support of FF) get sucked in to that I for one will be spitting bricks.

The British(English) ruling class has dug their hole – let them lie in it. To mix my metaphors.


sonofstan - January 18, 2017

now let them realise they’re talking out of it?


4. deiseach - January 18, 2017

The last point you make seems to never get made even though to my (admittedly self-serving) mind it is the one with the most potential for direct devastation on people’s lives. We had Brexiteers flying kites recently about imposing a levy on skilled EU workers. If that went through the EU would certainly retaliate and that would leave my family over a grand worse off. My wife still aspires to return to the UK before she is old and decrepit and here we have the potential for multiple barriers on me being able to join her. Not to mention how our son will be viewed by the land of his foremothers. Hey Nana, care to explain to your grandson why you voted to treat him as ‘un autre’?

The more I think about it, the more outraged I get. The rights and privileges that are going to be stripped from millions of people around Europe will be on a scale normally reserved for post-war settlements, yet all the talk is about tariffs! Another example of how the cult of business has infested our lives, and overwhelmingly for the worse.

Liked by 1 person

sonofstan - January 18, 2017

People = negotiation capital


5. sonofstan - January 18, 2017

Boris has now compared Hollande to a Nazi. That’ll play well in France.


lamentreat - January 18, 2017

It’s bizarre, isn’t it? They’re clearly panicking and lashing out. Plus the strange, vague comparison does suggest the Brexit leaders actually are spending half their time in a pseudo-historical dreamworld.


6. Ed - January 18, 2017

Apparently the front page of the Times today has the headline: ‘May to EU: give us a fair deal or you’ll be crushed’. It would almost be worth seeing this whole bloody country reduced to a barren desolate wasteland just to see those delusions of grandeur stamped into the dirt once and for all.

Liked by 2 people

7. depps - January 18, 2017

My thinking on this is that there is no going back from Brexit even if popular opinion does swing that way. If the Tory party was to fail to deliver on this I think it would probably lead to a surge in support for UKIP that could actually see them make serious inroads electorally – about 52% of voters were for Brexit. Even if polling shows that switching to 65%- 35% in favour of remain that is still 35% of the electorate that the Conservatives can’t afford to piss off.

I also think that the Tories have shot themselves in the foot by allowing a vote on the results of the negotiations – surely this provides a motivation to Europe to insist on the worst deal possible for the UK, one that would encourage Parliament to vote no and to reverse the process?


GW - January 18, 2017

It certainly opens that option, depps. There’s many who have had it up to here with the Tories in Europe and would welcome a chance to split them.

From this far out I’m betting cautiously on an abrupt exit with no agreement after spring 2019. Simply because the British(English) government have no realistic idea of their own bargaining position or how long things take to get voted through in the EU. I’d say they have at most 15 months to reach an agreement after March – then it needs to go through ratification at various levels inside the EU and member states.

But that’s all speculation at this stage.


8. GW - January 18, 2017

Right – that’s enough Brexit as such until they sign Article 50. Presumably in March. The EU will do and say nothing of significance publicly until they do.

The whole positioning themselves as victims (‘punishment beatings’ indeed), trying to provoke ‘the enemy’ and at the same time overestimating their significance and strength is pure fascist spectrum nonsense.

But the election in the North is another thing – that will be interesting, to say the least.


9. Michael Carley - January 18, 2017

A friend who works in Brussels tells me that the wording is being arranged for automatic entry to the EU for Scotland if it goes independent.


GW - January 18, 2017

Wow. Really?

That would really stick it to the Tories.


Michael Carley - January 18, 2017

The problem before was that if Scotland had chosen independence, it would not have been allowed straight into the EU, because that would cause problems for Spain and Belgium, with respect to Catalonia and Flanders.

This time round, the formulation will be that the UK (read `England’) has `broken faith’ with Scotland, in effect abandoning it when it would rather be in the EU. That keeps Spain and Belgium happy and allows the 27 to shaft the Brits as richly as they merit.

Liked by 1 person

Pasionario - January 18, 2017

The problem is that Scotland going independent when England is out of the EU and the single market would be absolute chaos. The whole premise of Scoxit (to coin a term) was that it would be “soft” in economic terms thanks to a shared currency, which surely can’t happen when one country is in the single market and the other out.
And then there’s the fall in the oil price. Seems to me the Scots are actually stuck now given how dependent Scotland is on England economically.

Basically, none of this looks good for anyone (except for the odd hedge fund). We’re all f***ed.


WorldbyStorm - January 18, 2017

That’s a very good (and kind of worrying) point Pasionario.


irishelectionliterature - January 18, 2017

The other thing here is that whatever agreement on Brexit and the border between the North and The Republic it will probably have to have Scottish Independence in mind or be Scottish Independence proof.


10. irishelectionliterature - January 18, 2017

One side thing here is a concern from FF over the Governments negotiation strategy for Brexit. There are fears that Enda Kenny and Charlie Flanagan aren’t up to the job. Fears of the border checkpoints returning and so on.
We could have a Brexit influenced election sooner than we think over getting Ireland a better deal from the negotiations.


oconnorlysaght - January 18, 2017

I wouldnt say Kenny and Flanagan are up to the job of protecting Irish interests. Would anyone in FF be any better ?


irishelectionliterature - January 18, 2017

No but they think that they are. …. I presume too that any agreement the Government comes up with will have to be approved by the Dail. Which really means that FF will have to approve of it. …. Which in turn stops an election fought over whatever crap deal FG get on the Border, Travel etc which would have appealed to the base Nationalism of FF who would “never have agreed to that deal … etc etc “.
Better for them to move for an election if it looks as if FG aren’t up to the job of negotiating a decent deal.


sonofstan - January 18, 2017

A deteriorating situation regarding Brexit and a failure to form a govt in the north could be the fig leaf both FF and SF would need to form a government in the south


11. FergusD - January 18, 2017

Bet you any money the Brit representatives/politicos are going round EU states, aside from France/Germany, trying to stir up trouble and wangle a deal. All those right-wing parties who may win elections, or are in power (Poland). Of course the other EU states should just say piss off, the EU has a negotiating team, but that wouldn’t stop perfidious Albion. It is what they have done in Europe for the last couple of hundred years at least.

Jeez, tell me the RoI will not accept running the UK’s (or rUK’s) immigration policy for them!! I know it is, sadly, a comprador state but surely there is some pride amongst the Irish “elite”?


GW - January 18, 2017

Yes Fergus – that’s already begun, with the help of Trump’s people I expect. But even the fascist spectrum Pisers (probably) aren’t that stupid and even if they are stupid enough to try what can rUK offer them that nearer neighbours can’t outbid?

Of course the Enoch Powell Memorial concert goers could target Poles living in Britain(England) – their self-appointed SA ground-troops already have – but that’s going to backfire.

On the second point I don’t put anything pass FG/FF & Lab in this respect.


12. CL - January 18, 2017

Brexit is Britain’s way of isolating Europe.

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