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The Charge of the Brexit Brigade

by Frank Schnittger Tue Jan 24th, 2017 at 08:09:30 PM EST

Some observers have been puzzled at how the UK's Brexit stance has grown gradually more hard line, even before the beginning of formal negotiations, and as their expectations of EU disarray and confusion have failed to materialize. Brexit campaigners were quite explicit that the UK wouldn't be leaving the Single Market or Customs Union during the referendum campaign. Now both are becoming unchallengeable Government orthodoxy even though the people were never asked to vote on that basis. Even the Labour opposition has meekly accepted this moving of the goal posts.

Fintan O'Toole has a perceptive and amusing take on this:

Brexit resurrects the English cult of heroic failure

Listening to Theresa May's big Brexit speech last week, I remembered that the English have a taste for heroic failure. Their favourite poem, Rudyard Kipling's If, says that triumph and disaster are the same thing. It also enjoins the English to "lose, and start again at your beginnings/And never breathe a word about your loss."

---snip---

Brexit is a perfect vehicle for this zombie cult. It fuses three of the archetypes of heroic English failure.

There is the last stand, exemplified by Gen George Gordon at Khartoum, another fiasco that quickly became a byword for heroism in the face of inevitable disaster: Brexit is imperial England's last last stand.

There is the suicidal cavalry charge [as in the Charge of the Light Brigade]: May hilariously threatened Europe that if it does not play nice, she and Boris will destroy its economic artillery with their flashing sabres.

And there is the doomed expedition into terra incognita to find a promised land. This kind of heroic failure is exemplified by Sir John Franklin's fatal search for the Northwest Passage in the 1840s.


Little matter that the EU's response has been one of bemused wonderment to date.  No one was threatening the UK's position within the EU, and repeated attempts to renegotiate the UK's terms of membership were met with meek accommodation. No one was going out of their way to provoke the English into a more hard line position. The referendum result was studiously respected.

There have been no threats of swingeing import tariffs, even though Sterling devaluation has damaged the competitiveness of EU exporters. Six Irish Mushroom growers with hundreds of jobs have already gone out of business in direct consequence. The English seem determined to go out and explore the Terra Incognita of trade agreements around the world which the EU has been unable to negotiate. Good luck to them.

Theresa May appears to have decided that the first order of business is to appease her hard right, and almost no attempt has been made to prepare the way for a conciliatory EU response. Expect howls of protest when EU leaders do the same and resist making concessions for fear of energising their domestic hard right opponents.  They will be accused in the UK media of playing politics and plotting revenge at some perceived slight.  Just what do on earth does the media think the UK has been doing?

Brexiteers seem convinced that the EU is a paper tiger which will just fold when confronted with the powerful logic of the UK's position. They point to the growth of Eurosceptic parties throughout Europe and genuinely seem to believe they are getting out just before the corrupt edifice of the EU collapses. They are encouraged by Trump's blatant agenda to destroy the EU, the USA's largest competitor. They see the UK as a major player in a geo-political game to reconfigure the political and economic world order with London becoming the European Singapore and centre of the financial universe. Apparently the EU won't be able to function without them.

Meanwhile most EU leaders are biding their time and waiting for A. 50 to be triggered. It is almost like the "phoney war" where all is "quiet on the western front" before the beginning of formal hostilities in the A. 50 negotiation process. In some fevered imaginations, this may come to be reminiscent of World War II with the UK holding out against a German dominated Europe. Merkel doesn't appear particularly keen on reprising that role, but I can't see eastern European Member states being particularly keen to appease the UK given that their citizens are the primary target of the Brexit campaign.

This drama has the potential to raise all sorts of ghosts from Europe's murky past, but the Europe of 2017 is not the same as the Europe of 1937. And neither is the UK of today the British Empire of yore. Theresa May and Boris Johnson would do well not to try and revive those unhappy memories. This will not end well, and the higher the stakes are raised, the worse the outcome will become for the UK in particular. The EU holds most of the cards, and it is unlikely they will allow the UK to Trump them.

Display:
The problem with the English: England doesn't want to be just another member of a team - Nicholas Boyle - The New European
Hag-ridden by their unassimilated imperial past, by their failure of Vergangenheitsbewältigung, the English refuse to think of themselves as a nation in the same sense as Scotland or Ireland and have constructed a constitution for their United Kingdom which denies the obvious. Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland all have their variously titled national assemblies, but England has none - not out of self-effacing modesty nor out of an altruistic desire to spare taxpayers the cost of supporting another stratum of politicians, but in order to claim for itself the exceptional position of anonymous master of its now diminutive empire.

... The slogan `English votes for English laws' was a first sign that resurgent Scottish self-confidence was provoking the English to emerge from narcissism into a recognition that the world - indeed, the island of Great Britain - contains people other than themselves. However, not until there is a separate English Parliament, giving expression to that separate English identity, will the delusions that led England to Brexit finally be dissipated by contact with reality. And perhaps then, with their psychosis healed, the English will apply to rejoin the EU.



Schengen is toast!
by epochepoque on Tue Jan 24th, 2017 at 08:25:02 PM EST
The Somme, Scott's Antarctic expedition, Hood vs. Bismarck, Singapore 1942, Afghanistan 1842, English national football sides for the last half-century.  The list may be endless.
by rifek on Wed Jan 25th, 2017 at 06:40:59 AM EST
I dunno, the Hood vs. Bismarck doesn't quite seem the same as the rest on that list. That was just a lucky shot in what was otherwise a not-unreasonable engagement, particularly given the mission parameters. Just about any damage at all to the Bismarck would have been enough to pin it down, so the Hood didn't even need to land a knockout blow, just give it a black eye.
by Zwackus on Wed Jan 25th, 2017 at 08:42:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Hood showed the glaring weakness in the RN's whole battle cruiser theory that was a significant part of its building plan, namely that there isn't enough speed gain to make up for the armor loss.  Bismarck was able to employ plunging fire with its 15s and cut through Hood like a hot knife through butter.  But Hood was and is sold as another magnificent sacrifice.
by rifek on Wed Jan 25th, 2017 at 03:09:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Don't forget Dunkirk, Suez, attempts to keep those pesky American colonists in line, the loss of empire throughout the world...  To these we may soon be to adding the loss of favoured trading relationships with the EU, Scotland, N. Ireland, London as the capital of the financial world...  But the deepest loss may be any sense of mutual connection and obligation between the working and ruling classes in England.  Brexit was a revolt in a deeply dysfunctional system.  It is unlikely to get any more functional unless I am underestimating the ingenuity of the ruling class...

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Jan 25th, 2017 at 09:28:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And don't forget 1066 either.
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Wed Jan 25th, 2017 at 10:07:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Jan 25th, 2017 at 10:17:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, they did build a nice wall with the EU (and even paid for it)....
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Wed Jan 25th, 2017 at 01:36:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think you'll find Hadrian's wall was to keep the Scots out... and they never made it to Ireland...

My English English teacher used to tell us that Ireland was an Island of Saints and Scholars while the Britons were wondering around naked painted with woad...  No wonder the Romans tried to keep them out.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Jan 25th, 2017 at 10:08:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It is interesting, and a sign of our times, that agitation on the far-right seems able to whip center-right parties into line almost instantaneously, forcing them further and further down their own yellow brick trail to hell, while far-left agitation seems to have next to no effect whatsoever on the traditional center-left parties.
by Zwackus on Wed Jan 25th, 2017 at 08:44:45 AM EST
That is because, until Sander's campaign, the US never really had a left candidate. The Clinton's and Obama were centrist as are most Democratic elected officials. And that center is now to the right of where Eisenhower was. Over the time from Eisenhower to Bush 43 the 'Mainstream Media' really mattered, and, however liberal some claimed the reporting was, it was always owned and run by very wealthy people, most of whom were well to the right of Eisenhower and a lot of the very rich were true reactionaries - back to the 19th Century types.

It still took until the '80s to undermine what FDR had put in place. Bill Clinton really drove the stake through the heart of the New Deal philosophy with his confirmation of Reagan's themes of the end of welfare, etc. and new found disdain for unions. But he was such a relief after Ronnie and G.H.W. that I and most Democrats didn't appreciate the consequences of what he had done, even if we took issue with those things.

Too soon old, to late wise.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Thu Jan 26th, 2017 at 04:40:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Here I was actually thinking more of European politics. The success of SYRIZA in Greece, and the rising fortunes of Linke in Germany a few years ago, only served to push the center-left further to the center. Yet, AfD, LePen in France, and the UKIP have turned far less success into far, FAR more influence nationally and far more adoption of their policies by the center-Right.

The US has a long history of ignoring popular mobilization, on both sides of the aisle, and is a different kettle of fish. It took a good 20 or 30 years for the loony right to really take over the Republican party, after all.

by Zwackus on Thu Jan 26th, 2017 at 05:50:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]

I suppose Hamon can brace himself for a similar storm of adulation by centre-left commentators.

by generic on Wed Jan 25th, 2017 at 01:13:30 PM EST
Is Corbyn part of the same syndrome? Is the British Left?

The tragic irony is that the UK is pretty good at a number of things, including science, engineering, the arts, sport, law, and entertainment. Not all of this is because English has favoured language status around the world - originally because of the Empire, now because of the US.

But we've never shaken off the perception of post-imperial mediocrity. And we've been electing the politicians to prove it.

I suspect this may do more to explain the bizarre allure of Brexit than even the neo-feudal effects of neoliberalism.

by ThatBritGuy (thatbritguy (at) googlemail.com) on Wed Jan 25th, 2017 at 05:23:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The problem is that the British are concerned about their self-defined sense of mediocrity. I attribute this to the unresolved class problem. Post WW II all of the really good things about the UK came from others than the old elite. Class influence kept Britons from taking justifiable pride in their own accomplishments. Especially the Welfare State. Class remains the poison at the heart of British society.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Thu Jan 26th, 2017 at 04:45:23 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The tragic irony is that the UK is pretty good at a number of things, including science, engineering, the arts, sport, law, and entertainment. Not all of this is because English has favoured language status around the world - originally because of the Empire, now because of the US.

But we've never shaken off the perception of post-imperial mediocrity. And we've been electing the politicians to prove it.

Look, we tried to tell you guys not to boil steak. ;)

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Fri Jan 27th, 2017 at 12:47:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You don't really think they put steak into steak and kidney pie?

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Jan 27th, 2017 at 09:28:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Admittedly, I have not seen anythign to make me disagree. Maybe it's out there and just not making it into the media, but nonetheless I haven't seen it.
by Zwackus on Thu Jan 26th, 2017 at 05:51:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
To some extent, whatever the feverish atmosphere in Westminster, the politicians have become trapped by the mood of the electorate.

The public have been infected with a virulent hatred of the EU over 30 years of vitriol from the tabloids, it is almost impossible to have a rational discussion about the EU because to do so we'd first have to scrape away 30 years of deliberately mis-informed prejudice, much of which began with Boris Johnston's 3 years of propaganda in Brussels.

The publi don't hate the EU, they don't know anything about it. But they hate a cartoon version of the EU that has accumulated over the years.

And politicians are terrified of this electorate. A majority know that voting for brexit will destroy the economy, but they also know they'll be voted out of office if they do so.

That's why Corbyn cannot really oppose May over this. He can't stop it and knows that Labour will suffer at the polls if it tries.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Wed Jan 25th, 2017 at 08:55:17 PM EST
Square this: a large majority wants to have full access to the single market. A large majority also wants immigration to be controlled/curbed. It's wishful thinking. And/or they want to inflict damage on the system to punish those who they feel have broken the rules, even if they themselves will be damaged (a phenomenon known from game theory).

Or is it all some weird form of self pity?

Schengen is toast!

by epochepoque on Wed Jan 25th, 2017 at 11:20:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think it is a failure to recognise just how much their power base has declined.  They fondly imagine they will be able to negotiate better trade deals with the EU and the rest of the world from outside the EU. They believe everyone else will be falling over themselves to do business with them. They imagine that the EU, without them, will collapse. They believe Scotland and N. Ireland will continue to follow them wherever they go.  That Trump and Putin will treat them as equals. That British ingenuity and talent will conquer the word.

I have no doubt they will have some successes, but no more and probably less than they could have had within the EU.  I also think that Brexit will exacerbate class divisions within England to the point where they won't even end up being a United England.  I don't wish them misery, but I think Brexit will be an epic fail and get worse with time.  I also can't think of a way in which they could reverse that decline.  All in all, a pretty sad demise.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Wed Jan 25th, 2017 at 11:39:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
To expect logic on a mass level is illogical.
by rifek on Wed Jan 25th, 2017 at 11:51:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, and a plea for attention and a cry for help, all at once.

Once the supposed financial wizardry of the City is fully revealed as the racket that it is, (as if rigging Libor weren't enough of a red flag) then the game is pretty much up for the vaunted prowess of overpaid spivs shovelling dirty money into places where it shouldn't belong.

Teresa May is like some old actress pretending the world hasn't moved on from her halcyon youth, delusionally foisting herself on the world stage.

A sad bluff that fools few, I suspect.

(Confirming the British propensity for futile tenacity to the wrong cause even when everyone else has seen the writing on the wall for years.)

If it rubs out the Tories, maybe Brexit will be worth it.

It's their bed, even if we all have to lie in it.

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Thu Jan 26th, 2017 at 02:44:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Helen, with this logic Labour is doomed. No one will ever go in History for being terrified. It is at times like these that great politicians emerge, by doing what they think is right, not by hiding themselves being the mob.

In any case, I do not think Corbyn lacks the courage, I think he is just happy for leaving too.

You might find me At The Edge Of Time.

by Luis de Sousa (luis[dot]a[dot]de[dot]sousa[at]gmail[dot]com) on Thu Jan 26th, 2017 at 03:51:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
You don't even have to be a great leader to see this is making Labour irrelevant.  If you are pro-Brexit, you vote Tory or UKIP. If you are for Remain, you vote Lib Dem or Scots Nationalist. By whipping his MP's to vote for A.50, he is making Labour complicit in the outcome.  If it turns out to be a success, the Tories will benefit, if it is a disaster, as I expect, the Lib Dems will become the main opposition and perhaps ultimately the dominant Governing party.

He could have said he supported the referendum outcome, which was to remain in the Single Market.  That way his hands are clean when the Tories screw up the negotiations and he can legitimately claim it is all their fault for not having a proper plan and negotiating strategy.  This way, it is Labour Lose Lose.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Jan 26th, 2017 at 04:51:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]

So suppose May tells them they can save on toilet paper if they use soft paper for their amendments? Will he whip for A50 or not?

by generic on Thu Jan 26th, 2017 at 09:03:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
675 likes over a period of hours.

From the leader of the Labour Party.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Fri Jan 27th, 2017 at 01:00:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
That's mostly because his Twitter account sucks. A bit more effort here could go a long way.
by generic on Fri Jan 27th, 2017 at 08:30:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Labour may oppose Article 50 Bill if amendments rejected, Diane Abbott says | The Independent -
Labour may yet oppose the Article 50 Bill if its amendments are thrown out, the party said today.

Diane Abbott, the Shadow Home Secretary, created further confusion about Labour's stance when she said it would "review our position" if it failed to change the legislation.

So why not say that in the first place?

by generic on Fri Jan 27th, 2017 at 02:43:21 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't know, Frank, never underestimate the Lib Dems' ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
by rifek on Fri Jan 27th, 2017 at 12:08:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Well they are so used to defeat, winning would be quite disconcerting for them.  But this isn't really about them or their organisational prowess. Where else have the 48% Remain voters to go to? Where else have those Leave voters who were merely protesting against austerity to go to when they realise austerity is going to get worse even as corporate taxes go down? Where else have those who thought they would be staying in the Single Market to go to when they realise that is no longer on offer? Where else have those who feel the Tories are making a complete mess of what may have been a legitimate choice to go to? Labour are now committed to supporting the Tories all the way...

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Jan 27th, 2017 at 12:20:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"Where Else Do You Have To Go?" has always been the Lib Dems' marching song, and they went straight down the rat hole with it under Clegg.  Maybe people have short enough memories that they'll buy it again.
by rifek on Sat Jan 28th, 2017 at 04:44:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And Corbyn doesn't lack courage.  He just doesn't know what he wants to be when he grows up.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Fri Jan 27th, 2017 at 01:05:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Sadly, I think that Labour is doomed on the short term.

As I've argued previously, corbyn is the problem. He's a nice guy, a solid MP but he's a terrible leader. Secretive, passive-aggressive and reluctant to explain himself.

I welcomed his election in 2015 because he offered more hope for an alternative than the Blairites and that, even if he himslef were not the leader to win, he would at least set things in place to take Labour forward.  Sadly, to use a Churchillian phrase, "I had hoped we were hurling a wildcat onto the shores, but it seems we have merely beached a whale". He has done nothing to advance the cause, there is no policy, no strategy, no tactics, not even a coherent messaging scheme to build an idea of where Labour is hoping to go.

keep to the Fen Causeway

by Helen (lareinagal at yahoo dot co dot uk) on Fri Jan 27th, 2017 at 05:45:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
For what it's worth I'm starting to agree. The Freedom of Movement question was massively mishandled. Somehow Corbyn central repackaged the exact same position in a way that made him look like he was going wobbly on racism.
A50 is even worse. The position now seems to be:


  1. Vote in favour because of the referendum.

  2. Try to amend.

  3. Vote against if amendments fail

Though I'm still not sure if that really is the official position and I follow Corbyn's Twitter account.
Now if clearly argued that would be an OK position though an opposition party has rarely suffered for voting no on a bill. And it also risk alienating core supporters since they are probably the ones most opposed to racist immigration policies and cutting ties with Europe.
Clumsiness by the leadership wouldn't add up to doom without the unresolved conflict with the PLP of course. Despite press coverage that was basically libellous labour was gaining on the Tories before the chicken coup. Yet now there is no way to pretend to know what you would get for a labour vote. 70s socialism? UKIP light? Poor hating neoliberalism?
One way or another this has to be resolved before the parties prospects can improve.

by generic on Sat Jan 28th, 2017 at 04:35:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The title to this article is the best allegory ever made to Brexit.

You might find me At The Edge Of Time.
by Luis de Sousa (luis[dot]a[dot]de[dot]sousa[at]gmail[dot]com) on Thu Jan 26th, 2017 at 03:38:39 PM EST
Theresa May's Brexit Plan Will Leave Britain Subject To Secret Global Trade Courts - Buzzfeed
Theresa May's plan for Brexit could leave the UK exposed to a network of secret international courts able to rule in corporations' favour over the NHS, food standards, environmental rules and more, leading trade experts have told BuzzFeed News.
[...]

But trade experts have warned that signing such deals without the EU judicial system will almost inevitably mean signing up to systems known as "ISDS" (Investor State Dispute Settlement) - secretive, binding arbitration systems that can force countries to overturn their laws when it hurts corporate interests. These formed the core of international opposition to trade deals such as TTIP (between the EU and US) and CETA (between the EU and Canada).
[...]

Cases in front of secretive ISDS panels can cover a huge range of issues and can involve overruling laws passed by parliament, as Dr Lauge Poulsen, a senior lecturer in international political economy, told MPs on the House of Commons international trade select committee earlier this month.

To keep in mind if Trump offers a trade deal to post-Brexit UK...

by Bernard on Tue Jan 31st, 2017 at 08:53:05 PM EST
There would be a certain historical irony in Britain being forced to concede a treaty enshrining corporate extraterritoriality.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Tue Jan 31st, 2017 at 11:48:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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