Oi! Davis! Where’s your Dunkirk spirit?

Christopher Nolan’s wartime epic, Dunkirk, goes on release next Friday. Although the Second World War and the Dunkirk evacuation in particular loom large in Brexit mythology, it seems to me that the Brexiteers haven’t learned anything very useful from their obsession with this part of history. Which is a shame, because David Davis, in particular, could benefit from a bit of the old Dunkirk spirit.

The reason why Dunkirk is worth remembering and celebrating is because is represents a particular brand of courage. The courage needed to face up to reality when a plan isn’t coming together. The British Expeditionary Force (BEF) had been outmaneuvered and beaten. There was no realistic prospect of it achieving its strategic goals.

The British were faced with two options – reinforce a hopeless position and waste more blood and treasure, with no prospect of victory, or plan an orderly withdrawal, saving as many as could be saved from death or capture. We only celebrate Dunkirk as a success because the British chose the latter option, saving around 198,000 British and 140,000 French and Belgian troops.

As well as the many, Britain saved the few, when Fighter Command’s Hugh Dowding resisted sending more pilots to France and withdrew the ones already there – if he’d thrown more of his men and machines at the battle of France, he could easily have lost the Battle of Britain.

David Davis, the UK’s chief Brexit negotiator is now in the same position as the BEF, in chaotic retreat, outmaneuvered by an opponent he has no realistic prospect of beating. The courageous thing to  do at this point would be to put the needs of the country first and save what can still be saved, rather than putting the nation in peril by throwing away its remaining reserves. Seriously, David, take yourself off to the movies and think hard about what you see:


Be careful what you wish for

You know the United Kingdom, that country which had to leave the EU because the EU was constantly forcing rules and policies on it? Was this the same UK which:

  • negotiated the creation of Regional Funds, then complained that Regional Funds were stupid and the UK should be allowed to spend its money how it likes
  • led the way on coordination of foreign policy in Europe, then complained about having to collaborate in some areas of foreign policy
  • renegotiated the Common Fisheries Policy, then complained that the revised CFP had damaged its fishing industry
  • headed reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, then complained that the CAP had always been bad for the UK
  • secured an agreement to fine community members which didn’t live up to their responsibilities, then complained that it was terrible the European Court of Justice could fine the UK when it didn’t live up to its responsibilities
  • pushed for former Communist states to join the community, then complained that the EU was full ex-Communist bloc citizens
  • helped to bring WEU defence programme into the EU, and led greater defence collaboration, then complained that the UK has no idea why the EU needed a military, or why it was pushing for further defence collaboration
  • voted to speed up Turkish accession (and was the only country fighting for that by 2010), then complained that the EU was pushing for Turkey to join
  • convinced the EU to adopt energy-efficient lightbulbs, then complained that the EU was forcing energy-saving lightbulbs on the UK.
  • negotiated opt outs, then complained the EU forced the UK to do things it didn’t want to, because the UK had lost 76 out of 2,466 votes (those 76 lost votes included ones the UK didn’t even take part in because they were in the area of its opt outs)
  • secured open voting reform, then complained that the EU had forced the UK to replace unanimity with Qualified Majority Voting?

Examples courtesy of this splended Tweetstorm, which includes citations.

Ties, Toblerone and jam tomorrow

If you got to the hashtag #brexitopportunities on Twitter, you’ll find plenty of people competing to make fun of the Brexiteers’ desperate attempts to talk up the fantastic opportunities which allegedly await us all in their brave new post-Brexit world.

Alternatively, you can cut out the middleman and just listen to the Brexit bunch’s own suggestions about the golden opportunities that lie ahead. They’re inadvertently more hilarious than most of the ridiculous suggestions being made by people who are deliberately trying to be funny:

Tory backbencher Peter Bone, who complained last week that a relaxation of the rule on wearing ties in the House of Commons could damage the “esteem of Parliament”, prodded Speaker John Bercow with a trade question about the neckwear. “Mr Speaker, you will be delighted to learn that the British tie manufacturers export millions of pounds,” he said.

“Could the Secretary of State suggest how this house could promote the wearing of ties to increase exports?”

[Disgraced MP Liam] Fox responded: “I suggest that we can lead by example and I can say that this was made in England,” gesturing to the label on his own tie…

…Ties are not the first niche product pro-Brexit MPs have promoted as the Government explores new opportunities for post-EU trade.

Boris Johnson highlighted a manufacturer in his constituency of Uxbridge which produces “the wooden display counters that are used to sell the duty-free Toblerones in every Saudi Arabian airport”.

“If we can crack markets like that, think what we can do when we have free trade deals with America, where they still have a ban on British haggis,” he said.

A Defra document released when the department was run by Andrea Leadsom last year highlighted tea, jam and biscuits, which could be targeted at Japan.

Another suggestion, last October, saw the Department of International Trade itself tweeting: “France needs high quality, innovative British jams & marmalades”.

Karl McDonald in iNews

Meanwhile, in other news:

Leaders from Japan and the European Union on Thursday announced their agreement on the broad strokes of a trade deal that will cover nearly 30 percent of the global economy, 10 percent of the world’s population, and 40 percent of global trade.

The EU and Japan must be kicking themselves for not coming up with a world-beating plan like simply walking away from their biggest markets, then rebalancing their economies to tap into the insatiable global demand for ties, jam and airport display cabinets for duty-free Toblerones.

“Wonks on the edge of a nervous breakdown”


Chris Deerin at CapX has noticed something:

Reader, it is my duty to say it: oh shit. I have scanned the horizon for a hero riding to Brexit’s rescue and found none. I have spoken to politicians, civil servants, academics, experts both at home and abroad, and have identified an overwhelming consensus: Britain is screwed. Even my Brexiteer friends are behaving like wonks on the edge of a nervous breakdown.

The situation is so grim, that for the first time since June 23, I wonder whether the country might rethink. The polls suggest the mix of fear and uncertainty, plus the show of blatant incompetence put on by the Government, is cutting through. Fifty-four per cent of voters would now vote to Remain in the EU. Sixty per cent would like to keep their European passport. Unsafe though predictions are in these complex times, I bet these numbers will go up rather than down.

No shit, Sherlock.

The cake is a lie

This week started on an optimistic note. There were signs that the Brits were becoming slightly less delusional about this whole having-your-cake-and-eating-it idea.
That was from Dan Roberts in Monday’s Graun.

But, no, the UK’s head of financial regulation, Andrew Bailey, apparently didn’t get the memo:

Does Brexit have to mean abandoning the benefits of free trade and open markets in financial services? It should not.

Does it require membership of the single market to get the benefits of free trade with the EU? No.

Does Brexit mean abandoning the use of regulatory co-operation to ensure sufficient alignment of standards and outcomes so that open markets can prevail? It should not.

Shouldn’t it? The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, begs to differ:

I have heard some people in the UK argue that one can leave the single market and keep all of its benefits. That is not possible.
I have heard some people in the UK argue that one can leave the single market and build a customs union to achieve frictionless trade. That is not possible.
The decision to leave the EU has consequences and I have to explain to citizens, businesses and civil society on both sides of the Channel what those consequences mean for them.

These consequences are the direct result of the choice made by the UK, not by the EU. There is no punishment for Brexit and of course no spirit of revenge. But Brexit has a cost, also for business in the EU27, and businesses should assess with lucidity the negative consequences of the UK choice on trade and investment and prepare to manage that.

Maybe David Davis can expain to Michel Barnier why the EU should grant Andrew Bailey’s wish list and let the UK contiue to enjoy the benefits of EU and single market membership without any of the obligations. Second time lucky? I’m not holding my breath.

Hope versus despair

First, hope, courtesy of Simon Wren-Lewis:

There was a lot of indignation yesterday from committed Remainers about Corbyn sacking those who supported the Chuka Umunna amendment on the Single Market. I’m a committed Remainer, but I couldn’t see what the point of the amendment was. That is because we are almost certain to leave the EU still in the Single Market.

In March I wrote that the outline of the Brexit deal was fairly clear. Crucially, there would be a longish (many years) transitional arrangement to enable a bespoke trade deal to be negotiated. During this period we would preserve our position in the customs union and Single Market (and pay money to the EU to do so). The UK side may dress this up as something a little different, if they have the wit and energy to do so and if the EU lets them, but to all intents and purposes that means nothing changes on the trade side for some time. That conclusion didn’t require any great powers of foresight at the time, but simply followed from the length of time it takes to negotiate bespoke trade deals (see, for example, Alasdair Smith here).

My only uncertainty back in March was whether May would choose (or be forced to choose) No Deal. With the election giving more power to soft Brexit elements among the Conservatives (e.g. Hammond), I think No Deal is now very unlikely because parliament will vote it down. As a result, towards the end of 2018 we will know how much we have to pay in order to formally leave the EU, but things will otherwise stay pretty much as they are now.

So maybe some of us over-reacted. I’m willing to consider that possibility. Maybe there’s some chance of a less-than-totally catastrophic outcome. But it’s still the silver lining of a very, very dark cloud. Here’s Frances Coppola with your daily dose of despair:
But [Leave voters] were sold a lie. Every day, the damage that Brexit will do to our complex tapestry of local and international relationships becomes more evident.

Briefly, I promoted the lie. I accepted the referendum result, and agreed to the Brexiteers’ demand that everyone “pull together” to make Brexit work. But since then, I have found it increasingly hard to write. Because I sold my soul, I lost my voice. I cannot write what I do not believe.

Brexit is bad. It will always be bad. There is no version of Brexit that can ever be anything but bad. The people who overwhelmingly voted for Brexit will not suffer much, because they are old and relatively insulated: but Brexit is incredibly destructive for the young.

And just to really cheer you up, here’s how an economist from the University of Groningen sums up the various probable outcomes:

Conclusion. There is no option that is better for trade than Britain’s current situation. There is no alternative that will grow Britain’s trade, apart from trying to get a deal that essentially copies what they have with the EU right now.

Thr really scary part is that the economists based their “Global Britain” scenario on the unfeasibly optimistic assumption that the UK will somehow mange to strike trade deals with every single country in the world outside the EU. Even under this best case scenario, the UK’s value added exports dropped by 6%. This was the best case scenario – the results of a soft Brexit were worse, those of a hard Brexit worse still. You can’t win and you can’t even break even. Here’s the vid, which comes with a content warning – it includes material that some viewers may find disturbing (it scared the hell out of me).

I’m aware that the Brexit horror show is becoming something of a regular fixture on this blog, which I didn’t intend it to. I’m starting to think that my ventings about Brexit really need a site of their own, so from now on, I’m either going to go to my happy place and pretend that the UK’s collective nervous breakdown just isn’t happening, or start a separate Brexit-themed blog for this sort of thing. Probably in WordPress, since I’ve been meaning to get to grips with it for a while [and, dear reader, I did, which is why you are here].

First posted here on 03/07/2017

Cake eating for dummies

This is the excerpt for your very first post.

And [Labour] will call on MPs from all sides to back a “jobs first” Brexit that delivers the “exact same benefits” of the European single market and customs union.

Here in the magic kingdom of infinite cake, every good politician must believe* that the UK really can “have its cake and eat it” after leaving the European Union.  Never mind that, in the real world, grown-up people who actually know stuff have already explained how cake eating works in the simplest possible terms:
That was pure illusion, that one can have the EU cake and eat it too. To all who believe in it, I propose a simple experiment. Buy a cake, eat it, and see if it is still there on the plate.
EU Council President Donald Tusk, pointing out the bleeding obvious, nine months ago.

Na, na, na, we’re not listening!

UPDATE – “We believe in cake everlasting, for ever and ever, amen. Burn the heretics!” now seems to be Labour’s orthodox credo. God help us.

UPDATE 2 – Rule of thumb – once a story like this appears in the UK’s only news organ of record, you know for sure that we’re all doomed…

*Or pretend to believe.

First published here on 29/06/2017