Matthew Cobb analyzes the Brexit mess

September 6, 2019 • 9:00 am

I’ve asked Matthew to keep us up to date on what’s happening with the Brexit affair, Parliament, and Boris Johnson. He’s obliged us well today, and here is his report.

by Matthew Cobb

  1. Proroguing (= suspension) of Parliament

Johnson’s scheme to prorogue parliament got the Queen’s assent (she is more or less required to do so —required by tradition rather than law). It also attracted widespread demonstrations last weekend and led to over 1.7 million signatures on a petition, which will be debated by parliament on Monday (the day before prorogation is due to take place).

There have been legal challenges to this in Northern Ireland, Scotland and England (each has a separate judiciary/legislative framework, a bit like US states). The English and Scottish challenges have been thrown out, but there is leave to appeal, and this will take place soon in the UK Supreme Court (a relatively recent invention). To give you a flavour of the debate in the courts, acts of 1611 were being referred to…

It seems most likely that Parliament will be prorogued next week, meaning that, with the traditional recess for the party conferences, parliament will not be sitting for around 5 weeks, in the middle of the most tumultuous period in UK history, probably since the 1640s (the Civil War).

To add to the febrile coup-like atmosphere, leading members of the government last weekend refused to say that they would abide by any legislation that they did not agree with, in particular attempts to stop “no deal” Brexit. This is really quite remarkable in a democracy.


  1. Blocking “no deal”

However, prorogation has been slightly superseded by events in parliament this week, which saw Johnson losing three key votes. The first two were related to a successful attempt by Parliament a) to take control of the agenda of parliament (normally it is the government that decides this) and then b) to vote a law that was intended to prevent the UK leaving the EU without a deal.

The ‘No deal’ business is significant because most observers think that this would have catastrophic effects on the economy and even on health care. The existing rules enabling, say, medicines or car parts to get to the UK would be torn up, and the UK would have to operate under World Trade Organisation rules in terms of tariffs, controls and so on. Parliament has consistently voted against No Deal, so it was no surprise that this happened.

However, there may be a worm in the bud. During the voting, an amendment from a Labour Brexiter was accepted that may enable Johnson to go to an EU summit on 15 October and come away with a deal and leave before 31 October (the latest Brexit deadline date, and one Johnson has clung to in dramatic terms). This amendment was accepted without a vote because the government failed to produce two tellers to count the votes. There was shock at this:  had there been a vote, it would clearly have lost given the mood of the house. However, it is not clear whether it was a cock-up or a cunning ruse by the government, and if so, what exactly will be the consequence…


  1. The Tories lose their majority

A key part of this chaos was the implosion of the governmental majority, and the lurch to the right of the Tory party. The government already had a majority of only 1 (this is not an absolute majority, but with the support of around 10 MPs from the Northern Irish DUP,  a protestant Brexit outfit—Northern Ireland voted remain…) Even before the key votes, a Tory member “crossed the floor” to the opposition benches. He did this literally, in the middle of one of Johnson’s speeches, walking from one side of the chamber to the other.

Number 10—Johnson and his chief advisor Dominic Cummings, a wannabe Bannon who is not even a member of the Tory Party and never has been—then made the votes on blocking no deal a key issue, and kicked out of the parliamentary party around 20 long-standing MPs (including people who were leading ministers a few weeks ago). This is called ‘having the whip withdrawn’ and means that the government now has no majority at all, as the votes showed. If they stand at the next election (many of them are leaving politics) it will not be as Conservative candidates.

This was a self-inflicted wound, designed to show the determination of the government to leave on 31 October, come what may. It is widely seen as showing the Tory party trying to avoid losing votes to the Brexit Party (Nigel Farage’s new party) in the upcoming election.


  1. Johnson’s final ruse fails

The final bit of this farrago was Johnson then trying to call an election. In the past, Prime Ministers could call an election whenever they wanted. That all changed a few years ago with something called the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, which means elections can take place only outside of the 5-year cycle, and with the approval of 2/3 of MPs.

Johnson and Cummings hoped that the opposition parties, and in particular the Labour Party, would vote for an election on 15 October. If the Tories won, then they could simply eradicate the legislation voted through this week to stop “no deal”. Labour were not so stupid as to fall into this trap, and abstained on the vote, meaning that Johnson is now stuck as a Prime Minister with no majority.

The tabloid press – and the Tories – howled about the Labour Party being ‘cowards’ (the vile Sun “newspaper” had Labour leader Corbyn photoshopped onto a chicken on the front page of its English edition; its Scottish edition, trying to sell papers in a country hostile to Johnson, had a more sober cover…)

Labour and the other parties are saying they cannot trust Johnson (true, he is a serial liar), so will vote for an election only after the anti-no-deal legislation has passed into law and has been implemented—maybe in November, after Johnson’s deadline of 31 October has passed. Government advisors have today admitted that wanting an election in October was partly designed to stop young people from voting. Students will just have returned to university and would probably fall through the registration rules. Young people tend to be anti-Tory and anti-Brexit, but are also less likely to vote.


  1. What happens next?

If I knew that I would be very rich. My guess is that there will be an election in early November. I cannot see what the outcome of that might be. Brexit may have happened by then, either because the government can get a deal with the EU that can pass through parliament. This is unlikely given that a key sticking-point in negotiations with the EU is how to maintain an open border on the island of Ireland: this is part of the Good Friday agreement that ended the Northern Irish Troubles.

If there is an election, the Tories are clearly going to campaign on the basis of having got Brexit done and enabling the country to move onto other things (they are also aiming to have a ‘culture war’ in working class constituencies, attacking Labour’s liberalism on matters relating to race, gender etc). However, Brexit is not going to go away. Whatever happens, the country is going to be mired in trade negotiations with Europe for decades to come. Unless, of course, there is a second referendum pitching A Deal vs Remain and the latter wins, and everything returns to the status quo…

143 thoughts on “Matthew Cobb analyzes the Brexit mess

  1. Shorter: It’s an utter shambles.

    But it’s a fair explainer by Prof Cobb. This week has been Johnson’s 1st week in front of out Parliament as leader and he’s been absolutely dreadful – looks completely out of his depth.

  2. I was at a conference in That London yesterday and a German speaker said that he’d been told not to mention either Brexit or the war in his talk.

    So he started his talk with a picture of somebody carrying a “Heil Boris” placard.

    Who say the Germans have no sense of humour?

    1. A German was told not to mention Brexit? This is like living through a Fawlty Towers episode.

      What a joke we have become.

      1. I was watching Cleese’s description of how he got the inspiration for Fawlty just a few minutes ago. Surreal.
        I personally don’t like Fawlty much, but it does have some soaring heights, and that is one of them.

  3. Note that if the anti-No Deal legislation succeeds in extending Article 50 then an election in November would be against the backdrop of Brexit *still* not being delivered, which would hit the Tories hard in the polling booths. That’s why the Tories are trying every trick in the book to leave with no deal on 31st October, or have an election before then.

    These tricks appear to include the Prime Minister disobeying the law –

    I’m not exactly sure what would happen then; I guess the opposition tries to form a government after a VONC? But who knows if that would work.

    It really is a bugger’s muddle.

    1. “These tricks appear to include the Prime Minister disobeying the law – (link removed)”

      What law would that be exactly. As far as I can tell only the Commons has passed any “legislation” requiring the PM ask for another delay. The Lords haven’t even voted on anything yet. And that doesn’t even include the amendment process. Which promises to be a long and drawn out process. And even if the Commons and Lords do pass the required legislation then they have to sit on their hands and wait for the Queen to give her Royal Assent to the legislation and then and only then does it become a “law”.

      The traitors, sorry, “Remainers” have very little time before Parliament is prorogued to do all of that. Hardly a realistic time frame to accomplish anything.

        1. Good for the Lords. Now if there were amendments to the bill it’s right back to the Commons for a vote. And if amendments or changes are made in the Commons it’s right back to the Lords until a consensus bill is agreed to and passed by both chambers. Then off to the Queen for her Royal Assent. And there’s no telling when that will be given or even if it will be given at all.

          And while all this is going on the traitors, sorry again, “Remainers” still have very little time for all of that until Parliament is prorogued. Because once prorogation occurs nothing will happen.

          Good luck.

            1. Oh, fricking brilliant!

              Such eloquence cruelly demolished by two dry one-liners (Jez and darwinwins).

              I couldn’t help laughing.


          1. “…traitors, sorry again, “Remainers””

            Who will win out at the end of all the present machinations in Parliament and the government remains to be seen but it is entirely without justification to refer to those MPs who have been working to block a no-deal Brexit as traitors. Whether you agree with them or not they are working sincerely in what they believe is the best interest of the country.

            You will presumably suggest that they are blocking the will of the people as expressed in the 2016 referendum but (leaving aside the question of whether the 2016 result still represents the views of the electorate as a whole) this is simply not the case. The referendum did not ask if we wanted a no-deal Brexit – indeed we were assured a deal would be straightforward – and it is widely recognised that if we crash out without a deal it will be very damaging to the British economy. It is entirely appropriate and in the national interest that politicians should fight to prevent such an outcome.

            If you think that the people who take this view are traitors because they are preventing Brexit on the 31st October then I suppose that you must also consider that Jacob Rees-Mogg and other members of the present government team are also traitors as they consistently and repeatedly voted against Theresa May’s deal and thereby prevented us from leaving on the 29 March? If Rees-Mogg and co are not traitors because they were not prepared to leave under the terms of one deal then please explain why the present rebels are traitors when they oppose leaving under a different set of terms (no deal) that are unacceptable to them?

        1. “Yes, since I have to spell it out, Johnson is saying he will disobey the law *if* it is passed.”

          According to Matthew Cobb (and thank you, Matthew, for the clearest explanation of all this that I’ve seen so far) leading members of the gov’t “refused to say [italics mine] that they would abide by any legislation that they did not agree with, in particular attempts to stop ‘no deal’ Brexit.” This sounds like a simple refusal to answer a leading question from the media rather than an out-and-out declaration of intent to disobey the law–two very different things. Which exactly is it?

          1. This sounds like a simple refusal to answer a leading question from the media rather than an out-and-out declaration of intent to disobey the law–two very different things. Which exactly is it?

            Things are moving very fast (the bill has being rushed into law, for example), so if you’re not British it’s understandable if you’re not aware of the latest developments. Matthew was quite right that cabinet ministers refused to say that they would abide by legislation. But that was last weekend, and a week is a long time in politics, as Harold Wilson famously said, and Johnson is tonight reported to be “set to defy the law rather than ask for Brexit delay” –

            “The Prime Minister said he “will not” carry out Parliament’s instructions to seek an Article 50 extension if he fails to agree a new deal, adding he was only bound “in theory” by a law passed on Friday.”

            Pretty clear. Whether he will carry out this threat or not I don’t know; I’m just reporting the news – don’t shoot the messenger!

      1. It may vaguely have been apt three plus years ago to label people trying to promote a sensible deal with the EU, or even remain, as traitors (albeit totally untrue), but after the passage of time this can no longer be the case. Now it’s an obsessive and bullying minority who support leave at all costs, throwing democracy to the winds, completely oblivious to the economic, social and political damage that would result. Leavers casually refer to WTO rules, ignoring the fact that these were designed for third world countries, or emerging economies, who weren’t yet in a position to negotiate less damaging terms.

        The best defence for ‘no deal’ amounts to ‘the risks of economic catastrophe are exaggerated’. Great! What an endorsement!

        1. You’re not a traitor. It is an unfortunate tendency of many on the Brexit camp to seek to frame the debate in terms of ‘surrender’ and ‘traitors’ and to characterise the EU as ‘the enemy’. It’s childish and plain wrong and I wouldn’t encourage it.

          Those arguing for us to remain in the EU and opposing Boris Johnson’s vandalistic crash-out policy are no less patriotic than the Brexiteers – we are just less inclined to parade our love of the country by constantly blethering on about Agincourt, Trafalgar, Dunkirk and the Blitz.

          1. Oh, I’ve been beaten with the “traitor” stick since I was 6 or 7 – as soon as my peers could recognise “he’s got an Irish name – kill him!”
            It’s a guaranteed method of breeding a fifth column.

            Agincourt, Trafalgar, Dunkirk and the Blitz.

            Don’t forget Peterloo, the Post Office, Bloody Sunday, Warrenpoint and – since I re-watched the film last night – Bobby Sands MP. Not to mention the tens of people from the animal rights movement detained and beaten up under the provisions of POTA – far more than were ever taken from the IRA (various septs) and UDA (various septs).

    2. I would caution anyone who thinks that the public don’t know why Parliament has managed to go 3 years without implementing the referendum result to think again. Labour may well be slaughtered.

      1. “…anyone who thinks that the public don’t know why Parliament has managed to go 3 years without implementing the referendum result…”

        How long do you think it should have taken? Unpicking well-over forty years of close engagement is not at all straightforward and one of the ways in which the public were mislead at the time of the referendum was with the suggestion that the separation would be dead simple – like cancelling your gym subscription or such-like.

        It would have been far more sensible for Theresa May to have refrained from triggering article 50 immediately and instead embarked on a detailed consultation and investigation into what kind of Brexit the public actually wanted and what the costs and benefits associated with different options were so that she could then have gone to Brussels with a clear idea of what we were aiming for and a proper plan for getting there. That would have added more time to the three years but would have given a much better chance of success than the reckless plunge she took that has had us wallowing around these last three years.

        Personally I would still prefer us to stay in the EU but if the decision was to leave the government should have set about it in a much more considered and careful way.

    1. That is effectively what we are about to have, if it’s run before Halloween, or Article 50 is extended. But there are at least two reasons why a Referendum on a deal should be run instead of an election, imo:

      1) An election will inevitably include issues other than Brexit in the electorate’s decision-making. For example, I’m aware of a number of long-time Tory voters who are staunch Remainers who will still vote Tory, because that is what they do.

      2) Polling suggests that while Leave as an option may sometimes have the support of >50% of the electorate, no single Leave option does. So No Deal may be able to command 30-35% of the vote, for example. This means that no Leave option would win a referendum and the only way for Brexiters to realise their dream is through a FPTP election, which could allow 30-35% of the electorate to command a majority in Parliament.

      Both these factors mean that the country could be forced into a damaging disorderly exit from the EU against the wishes of the majority of the voters.

      1. Leave hasn’t had majority support in opinion polls for months. That’s one reason why the Brexiteers aren’t all that keen on another referendum.

        Admittedly the margin is quite tight though and certainly within the error margin of most opinion polls.

        1. And that is the problem with a second referendum. Whichever way it goes it is likely to be another narrow majority that will leave the country bitterly divided for years to come.

          It is too late to do anything about it now but David Cameron made a terrible error in having a referendum with the vote decided on a simple majority. For any referendum on major constitutional change it would be far more appropriate to require a super majority for the change before enacting it. I believe that many countries with written constitutions require exactly that before constitutional changes can be made. The UK’s constitutional arrangements have increasingly been shown to be unfit for purpose in the last few years.

          1. Whichever way it goes it is likely to be another narrow majority that will leave the country bitterly divided for years to come.

            Holding a referendum on “2+2=4” is likely to leave the country divided after this fiasco. The mood in Scotland is strongly to revoke the 1707 Act of Union and rebuild Hadrians Wall to keep the barbarian hoards of Essex out.

  4. The idiot usurper who grabbed the office of Prime Minister by stepping into vacuum is already on his way out. Most of of in the UK realize we made a big mistake in the referendum vote as we were fed a web of lies and fantasy by Brexiters. Its no shame for many of us to say it was a mistake because we voted on the information we were given by liars. Bojo will become Nojo very shortly

          1. A fantasy argument was produced by Brexit with no strategy that had any substance.
            1. We shall make trade deals with any nations we choose to.
            Exactly where are the trade deals and what are the terms and drawbacks ?
            2.Now we are free from Europe we will trade with nations anywhere
            Exactly what will be the shipping costs of these trade deals now that we will not be trading with our near neighbours. I cant recall anyone asking how rising fuel costs are going to affect the price of imported goods.
            3 we will reduce tariffs on imported goods
            Exactly what effect will this have on Governemnt revenue on on the Public Services including the NHS . The promised billions increases to the NHS by Boris is obviously off the top off his head since he cannot possibly know the what the real figures of government revenue will be after Brexit
            4 the fact is we will be competing with geographical trading blocks that can trade with each other at relatively low costs
            Where does The UK alone stand in comparison to this?
            The list goes on and on

            1. I respectfully and congenially acknowledge your statement and opinion.

              I reasonably gather that anyone claiming lies by Brexiteers is not similarly obligated.

          1. I’m not claiming he’s a liar. I’m claiming he’s a nasty piece of work.

            And yes, it kind of does explain his position on Brexit.

            1. “’m not claiming he’s a liar. I’m claiming he’s a nasty piece of work.

              And yes, it kind of does explain his position on Brexit.”

              If I correctly understand, “It” (Condell’s being allegedly “a nasty piece of work”) explains his position on Brexit.

              Am reminded that the Catholic Church’s antipathy to Galileo’s position on the gravitational relationship of the Earth and Moon was based (mainly and irrelevantly) on Galileo’s disagreeable disposition.

              1. Perhaps one can take consolation that, in our (allegedly) enlightened era, Condell does not have to fear the threat of being burned at the stake.

      1. Pat Condell sometimes speaks sense, but he’s become even more right wing recently (difficult, but there it is). He has an authoritative delivery, but patronises and has extremely foolish views on Brexit.

        1. He’s the guy who claimed that there was ‘not a whiff’ of racism about the English Defense League. Because he’d visited their website, see, and there was nuffin’ there that looked racist to him. So…QVC. Case closed.

  5. Thanks, Matthew. It’s hard sometimes to grasp what is going on in a foreign political system – it’s hard enough in one’s own.

    One thing I have missed in all this; what reason or justification did Johnson give to prorogue parliament? I am certain he didn’t do it without some argument for why he was doing it, however specious, misdirecting or self-serving (or legitimate!)it was.

    1. Prorogueing Parliament is not the problem per se. It is the timing and the length. Parliament is usually prorogued for the queen’s speach (actually the government’s programme for the next session) once a year. Prorogation is usually for a few days. Due to the ongoing chaos there hasn’t been a queen’s speech for over two years. So having one now looks reasonable. The first problem is that prorogueing kills any legislation in progress. This means that the bill to stop no deal has to be passed before prorugation next week or it falls. The other problem is Parliament traditionally does not sit for three weeks in the autumn so the political parties can hold their annual conferences. Johnson has combined prorogation with the conference season so that no legislation can be passed for five weeks. It also means that there is very limited time for legislation between Parliament returning and the end of October.

      Johnson’s justification is just that it is ‘business as usual’. He is lying.

      1. Yes – they have taken a normal procedure and applied it in a manner that is clearly designed to prevent Parliament from scrutinising the government’s actions and from blocking a no-deal Brexit. The period of time over which Parliament will be suspended by Johnson’s action is by far the longest in decades. At a time of National crisis it is normal that Parliament is RECALLED if it is not already sitting at the time but Johnson is seeking to do the exact reverse with the sole purpose of prevent Parliament form getting in his way. We were told Brexit was about restoring sovereignty to Parliament but Johnson and his behind the scenes puppet master, Dominic Cummings are just interested in forcing their own agenda and trampling the rights of Parliament.

        As to the party conferences, at a time of national crisis they can surely be postponed or even cancelled for this Autumn.

    1. I feel sorry for the dog our PM ,hahahahahahahahah,sorry about that .Has just rehomed ,you just know that bojo is the type of cad that would take his anger out on the poor thing .

      1. bojo is the type of cad that would take his anger out on the poor thing

        Not in front of witnesses. Not that he’s learned that lesson, but his handlers have.

  6. Mark,

    let me correct one (important) detail.

    As of today, the UK has not completed negotiations on a WTO regime. Meanwhile, WTO countries are free to set their own (non-MFN) schedules.

    WTO rules do not cover market access, which is the most important aspect of trade, nowadays, nor trade in services (but for specific sectors). Also, agriculture is in limbo. Without market access, just in time trade and supply chains are severely disrupted. Ensuring worldwide market access is, in any case, a matter of years. US and EU markets are not compatible.

  7. What a superb distillation of a complex and frustrating situation. If the day job doesn’t work out Matthew you might consider political journalism 🙂

  8. A good summary Professor C.

    The most likely outcome in my view is the blocking of ‘no deal,’ extension of the Brexit date and a general election in Nov delivering another hung parliament.

    Since we won’t have left the EU the Brexit Party will take votes from the Tories, and the leave side is split. Both Tories and Labour are predicted to lose seats at the moment.

    I think the whole mess is going to rumble on for at least another year.

    My favourite comment from twitter:
    Poor Theresa May – she put years of effort into being Britain’s worst ever PM and then along comes Boris and beats her on his first day.

    1. That should have read ‘the remain side is split’ not ‘the leave side is split’. Anyway, splits all over, so a hung parliament.

      1. Much may depend on the deals that the parties on each side of the argument strike with other parties on the same side.

    2. I’d like to put in a good word for Theresa May. She had a bad hand and she played it as well as anyone could. She secured probably the best deal from the EU as can be expected given the Irish border problem, and asked Parliament to approve. She did so several times, arguing her case and always respecting the Parliament. Had it not been for the crazies, the bill would have passed and the issue settled. The failure was not hers.

      1. Yes, she was given an impossible job. Couple that with her total discomfort with the role of leader(and, I would argue, a certain amount of sexism) and it’s no wonder she didn’t succeed. But I think she was honestly trying to do the best for the country.

        1. Plus, we had our own loutish US president, on his first (non-state) visit to the UK, tossing an anvil to a woman barely treading water — first by making critical comments about her to the Brit press upon his arrival, then, at their joint presser the next day, saying he thought Boris Johnson would make a splendid PM.

              1. Ken You should move to Wyoming, your electoral college vote will count three times as much as a vote in NY,(or TX or CA for that matter) there, and your Senate vote will weigh 70 times more!

              2. I’m assuming you’ll be on the Election Voting Webpage on the day, clicking ‘vote’, ‘refresh page’, ‘vote’, ‘refresh page’, etc. for the rest of the day. With a decent internet connection you could get tens of thousands of votes in doing that.

                Don’t tell anyone though, or everyone else will do it too.

          1. “tossing an anvil to a woman barely treading water”

            What a great turn of phrase! And you are right Theresa May had this and a number of other anvils flung at her during her tenure at No 10.

          2. “US president… making critical comments about her to the Brit press upon his arrival, then, at their joint presser the next day, saying he thought Boris Johnson would make a splendid PM.”

            Given the general perception in non-Repub circles of your illustrious President, I suspect that would have helped Teresa May more than it did Bojo.


      2. Largely I agree, but she dropped several unnecessary (with the benefit of hindsight) clangers. Firstly, saying ‘Brexit means Brexit’ when nobody actually knew what form Brexit might take. Secondly, saying ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’, when actually any deal is better than no deal. Third, deciding to invoke Article 50 before fully assessing the implications of such a move has proved disastrous. It happened for reasons of political expediency but, my goodness, what a mistake!

        1. Yes, May was far too quick to set out impossible “red lines” that went beyond what the public was seeking – including many who voted to leave. The EU dismissed them, but May’s early stance encouraged Brexit hardliners to hold out for a result that was never going to be negotiated.

        2. I agree with all of that, but I think her main problem was that she(along with Corbyn) allowed an authority vacuum to open up in British politics, simply because she was so terrible at the job of being a leader, at reassuring the public and exuding calm and confidence. And for her entire time as PM she was on the constant brink of either resigning or getting usurped.

          As a result the general mood(I admit that it’s difficult to quantify this) in the country grew more and more restless, and bad actors began to fill that authority vacuum.

          It’s good if a leader is decent and intelligent, but they really do have to act as a figurehead too, as an avatar that people can point to when someone asks ‘who’s in charge of this mess?’. And in that respect she was a terrible leader.

          1. I agree. It’s a shame that both major parties in the UK have simultaneously been led by individuals unsuited to the demands of leadership.

            Corbyn at least has the excuse that in putting his name forward as Labour Party leader in 2015 he had no reason to imagine that he would be successful. Indeed, he only made it into the second stage of the contest because a couple of Labour MPs who didn’t believe in his campaign nevertheless thought it would be beneficial to the party to have a more diverse range of candidates to choose from than in the previous leadership election.

            May, whatever her other qualities, seriously lacked people skills. She always seemed awkward and ill at ease. Johnson has a different, almost diametrically opposed, problem. He can do popularity, at least with those happy to go along with his kind of shtick, but he can’t do detail. As witnessed by his excruciating and rambling attempt to recall the formal phrases used by British police when making an arrest – in front of a bunch of police recruits, no less.

              1. I hadn’t seen that before – Christ what a useless fuckwit.

                It’s like seeing a formerly rampaging hippo that’s been sedated and chained and pushed onto a stage with its teeth removed.

                It’s confused, and it still waddles around bumping into things, it still farts and shits itself and breaks things, and it still makes the same hippo noises…but where once it was vaguely impressive, now it’s just cringeworthy and depressing to watch.

  9. If there is an election, the Tories are clearly going to campaign on the basis of having got Brexit done

    In your otherwise excellent summary of the situation, this is the one point I might quibble with. The way things stand now, there will be an extension to the Brexit deadline, unless BoJo chooses to break the law.

    He’s not going to get a better deal from the EU than that which is already on the table and which is unacceptable to some people in his party and the DUP. In that case, the new law kicks in and he has to ask for an extension.

    With an extension to Jan 31 and the prime minister having been shown to be unable to implement his promises, Conservative support may collapse. The opposition could then pass a vote of no confidence followed by either an election or forming a “government of avoiding no deal Brexit”. Either way BoJo is totally boned.

    Of course, BoJo might choose to break the law, in which case, I have no idea what happens next.

    1. The bill has just passed in the Lords (in the last 30 mins). It still has to have royal ascent, which should happen on Monday. I think it’s possible for Johnson to recommend it not be given, by which I mean this has happened (rarely) in the past.

      Maybe someone with more knowledge than me can comment.

      1. Yes he could. If he did that, I think the vote of no confidence would happen at the next available opportunity. He’d lose and the opposition parties would form a government of no no deal.

    2. “. . . unless BoJo chooses to break the law.”

      What law would that be exactly. Far as I can tell the Commons passed some legislation. The Lords haven’t done anything and the Queen certainly hasn’t given her Royal Assent to any legislation on this matter.

      So again. How is “BoJo” going to break a law that doesn’t exist.

        1. Fountain pen? Shouldn’t that be a quill? What’s become of British tradition?

          I could name someone on this side of the pond who uses a Sharpie.

          1. Well spotted, Ken – doubtless there is a goose somewhere near Balmoral with a feather missing. Boris is staying over with Liz tonight – let’s hope he doesn’t get anywhere near the paperwork with HIS sharpie before she signs it. Sadly, I wouldn’t put it past him to actually try pulling a stunt like that!

  10. I for one would like to thank BoJo for disabusing me of the common Yank inferiority complex that someone with a plummy accent and an Oxbridge education must be smarter than the rest of us. 🙂

    1. Concur. Though in the case of Hitch, one could be forgiven for so thinking. Would that there could have been a debate between “BoJo” and Hitch.

  11. To give you a flavour of the debate in the courts, acts of 1611 were being referred to …

    As a young lawyer, I once cited the 1166 Assize of Clarendon (which predates Magna Carta by about half a century) in a legal brief in support of what I claimed to be “a venerable principle of Anglo-American jurisprudence.” Caught a lot of ribbing from my colleagues over that one.

    Whenever I was trying a case with a buddy of mine after that, and I was making an argument that didn’t seem to be sitting too well with the judge, my buddy would pass me a note saying, “Tell him about the Assize, Ken.” 🙂

  12. The best explanation for the Why? of Brexit is from Fintan O’Toole. It is not about Europe. It is about the English (not British). It would take an Irishman to understand this. You can see a lot of his talks online. This is a good one:

    1. This O’Toole guy is brilliant. I think he explained a lot. I nearly get to the point where I have an inkling of (probably delusional) understanding of this Brexit madness,

    2. O’Toole is very good. Another Irishman who has a deadly accurate understanding of the English is the wizard of prose John Banville, particularly in his novel “The Untouchable”. Like O’Toole, Banville was associated with the Irish Times, as was the ineffable Brian O’Nolan (also known as Flann O’Brien).

  13. One of the biggest voices in the UK against Brexit is talk radio host James O’Brien. The NYT did a story on him in Feb:

    You can find a lot of clips from his show on youtube. Just search for James O’Brien LBC. Or go to the page of user I Am Incorrigible.

    O’Brien’s page at LBC is:
    I often listen to him in the morning – usually his podcast but sometimes live at 4am.

    I have also been listening to Phil Moorhouse who posts his views on his youtube channel, A Different Bias:

      1. Well, I don’t know about James O’Brien or Phil Moorhouse – haven’t the time to watch/listen right now – but that interview with Fintan O’Toole that George posted above is a very clear and rational analysis of the situation. It’s a much better listen, and much more informative, than the paranoid, propagandistic ravings of Pat Condell that Filippo posted above. Interviewing him I think is about on a level with debating with creationists, ie it’s not worth the aggravation. It’d be a Gish Gallop of rubbish, lies and delusional distortions.

        1. I will be sure to listen to Fintan O’Toole’s rational justifications for why general E.U. economic considerations should trump U.K. democracy and sovereignty.

          1. If you would bother to listen to O’Toole, he does not address economic issues at all. He talks about English nationalism. Brexit has nothing to do with Europe or the UK (either democracy or sovereignty). It is about England.

            1. It is no bother to listen to O’toole. I’m into the first twenty or so minutes. Yes, it is about England, at least about its control of its borders. It is also about the EU, to the extent that the EU opposes Brexiteers’ position on British/English borders.

              1. The opposition involves the Irish border not British/English borders.

                The EU cares about security on the border of one of its member states where there is a long history of violence. A sensible concern, one would think.

        2. I love listening to Fintan O’Toole. Granted, my mother is from West Cork so I like the sound of the Irish. But I could listen to O’Toole read the phone book – if they exist anymore.

  14. Vladimir Putin and his cronies must be laughing themselves silly. Trump in the U.S. and Johnson in the U.K. – it’s a dream come true (for him).

    1. My mum, a Czech immigrant from the Russian regime in the late sixties, makes that point to me and my sisters all the time. She sees the same rhetorical tactics that were used by the Communists being used by Brexiteers and by Trump. The most common tactic the Communist party used in Czechoslovakia was simply ‘accuse your opponents of doing what you’re doing, before they accuse you’. Political gaslighting.

      She’s genuinely worried, and has been trying to persuade us all to get European passports asap.

      1. I have noted that the Republicans have been doing this for *years*, long before Trump, Putin or any of the UK mess.

        It is not surprising that it is amplified in several directions now, though.

    2. I’m not sure. Putin would love a no deal Brexit because it destabilizes the EU and weakens The UK. On the other hand I think Bojo’s cockup was a slap in the face for Trump.

    3. Yes, that is an angle that has not been stressed enough. Stronger, I sometimes wonder how much the Russians have been interfering in that Brexit referendum (just wondering, not stating they did).

  15. Vladimir Putin and his cronies must be laughing themselves silly. Trump in the U.S. and Johnson in the U.K. – it’s a dream come true (for him).

    1. The opposition parties don’t trust Boris Johnson to not manipulate the date of the election if they agree to one. There will certainly be a general election, but not until the recent vote to stop a no-deal Brexit has been acted on.

  16. Let me get this straight. The PM has got the queen’s Royal Assent to prorogue Parliament so that it will be unable to pass into law legislation calling for No No Deal, so that there will be an election of a new parliament, which will be hung rather than prorogued. It is obvious that the new election should be held on Halloween.

  17. In 2016, the UK public were lied to by the “Leave” campaign – the elite who stood to make money from Brexit, at the expense of the country.

    Just under 33% of the country voted to leave the EU, based on the promise of a fantastic deal with the EU post-Brexit.

    That deal is now plainly unavailable, yet the Brexiteers press on, no longer pretending to act in the interests of the UK. The trope “no deal is better than a bad deal” is clearly true, yet the most obvious solution is being energetically avoided by all:

    We were lied to in the first referendum. Some, but not enough of us, saw through the lies. Now we have the moral right to have another referendum, being in possession of the facts of the impact of a no-deal Brexit, the deal that is on offer from the EU, or simply remaining in the EU.

    The fact that we are being denied the choice is, essentially, fascist dictatorship. The UK is no longer a democracy. It’s a demagoguery, with the demagogue in question so far removed from understanding the wishes and needs of the country that it would be merely farcical if so many people did not stand to lose so much.

    Not that long ago I was marveling at the way Donald Trump was trampling all over the best interests of the US; now it’s clear that Boris Johnson has looked at Trump and thought, “well, doing whatever the fuck I want seems to work.” I can’t believe we haven’t learned from what’s happened in the US over the last few years.

    The ironic thing is that most of the people who still want Brexit are the people that stand to lose the most from no-deal, but they won’t look objectively at the facts, they still think that “British bulldog” spirit will somehow mean that no ill effects would be felt. The recession won’t really happen. There won’t really be medicine and food shortages, simply because we’ll invoke the spirit of Churchill’s wartime bullishness. FFS.

    I’m fearful for what this means for my children and my grandchildren, growing up in a country that has chosen to leave an (admittedly flawed) economic union, primarily on the grounds of soon-to-be-dead ignoramuses claiming that “dirty foreigners are taking our jobs.”

    The Government’s own research has shown that the UK will be in serious trouble in the event of a no-deal Brexit, yet the Government itself is simply denying that research. Like Trump, our treacherous government is brazenly lying to us and feeling not a jot of conscience about it. And the worst part is that they’ll get away with it. These treasonous, self-interested cunts will simply walk away from the mess they’ve created, safe and sound in their bubble of wealth and privilege.

    I weep for my country.

    1. These treasonous, self-interested cunts . . . .”

      If I may presume to ask, in the spirit of comity, what is the male equivalent?

      1. The c word used in that context by a Britisher has no sexual bias. But if you need an insult based on male sexual organs that means roughly the same, “dickhead” is possibly closest but doesn’t quite catch the nuance. Arsehole works but that is unisex.

        1. ‘Prick’? ‘Knob’?

          They’re not anywhere near as offensive, or fun, but there are plenty of alternately gendered equivalents to the c-word(the c stands for ‘cunt’).

          I try not to use that word(cunt) because I know some people, justifiably, don’t like it.
          Now I only ever use it when I’m hammering and I catch my finger, or I stub my toes, or when I’m reading a eulogy.

    2. I agree 100% with your message but there are two minor corrections that my pedantry forces me to make.

      Just under 33% of the country voted to leave the EU

      This is incorrect. Just over 33% of the registered voters voted to leave. It was only about 25% of the country. A lot of the discrepancy is accounted for by people aged between 0 and 18 who are legally not allowed to vote but who will be the people who have to live with the consequences.

      Since then, people who were aged between 15 and 18 are now allowed to vote and are fairly strongly Remain AFAIK.

      We were lied to in the first referendum

      Well it was actually the second referendum. The first referendum was in 1975. You may think this is a trivial point but it’s not. It shows that referendums are not set in stone. They can be overruled or rerun. The organisation we voted to stay in has evolved a great deal since then. Things have also changed in the last three years. For example, we now know that the leading Brexiteers were lying liars. We know that the Leave campaigns broke the law. We know that the Brexiteers had no plan for what to do after the vote.

  18. What should also not be forgotten here is that the opposition leader is an arch Brexiteer who has opposed Britain’s membership in the EU since it first joined it (or the EEC) in 1974.

    Due to the politics of his Party, Corbyn had to present himself during the referendum campaign as being in favour of remaining, but campaigned very tepidly and went on holiday twice — the second time for two weeks immediately before the vote.

    After the election he forced Labour MPs to vote in favour of invoking Article 50 (beginning the official process of leaving the EU), something he could have blocked until at least an agreement had been reached — as the Leave campaign had promised to do.

    Anyone wishing for another referendum or a general election with Brexit as the issue, must reckon with the absence of effective opposition to leaving the EU.

    If Labour had a half credible leader who was opposed to leaving the EU, there is no way Johnson would have been calling for an election.

    (Corbyn is also an old fashioned Jew-baiting antisemite, with the requisite love for Islamic extremism and open support for terrorists, along with hatred of the West which he sees as the tool of a cabal of Jewish bankers. His fans fall into two categories: those who think that description of his opinions is an outrageous lie; and those who support him for holding exactly those opinions and acting on them.)

      1. On German TV news (state TV, ZDF) last night, their political correspondent spent about 15 minutes explaining Johnson’s buffoonery, incompetence, lies, and general malignancy in surprisingly calm and objective terms. Her final sentence simply noted that the leader of the opposition has even less credibility than Johnson.

      2. Corbyn defies explanation. His close advisors include two people (it was briefly three) who believe that the crushing of the Prague Spring by Soviet tanks in 1968 was a good thing. Yup, the event that disgusted Albania so much that it withdrew from the Warsaw Pact at the time was cheered on by these guys. Way to go, Jezza!

      3. A populist uprising of Labour supporters. Corbyn was presented as traditional Labour against the modern “corporate” Labour who were perceived (wrongly IMO) as Tory lite.

        A lot of people joined the Labour Party just to vote him in (I know long time Labour supporters who resented that deeply).

        Then the parliamentary party made the mistake of trying to oust him before he had had a chance to fail in a general election. That strengthened the populist feelings and made his position unassailable even after he did fail in a general election.

        1. “the modern “corporate” Labour who were perceived (wrongly IMO) as Tory lite.”

          Umm, like Tony Bliar was?


    1. Yes, that is one of the biggest problems in the UK: the opposition being led by an odious and despicable snake (my apologies to snakes). The best thing that could happen in the UK (except just revoking article 50) would be for the Labour party to get an upright, incorruptible leader.

  19. I too am grateful for Prof Cobb’s detailed summary, and I also endorse many of the comments above. I voted Remain; but I was prepared to acquiesce in the result of the referendum, provided the promises about a smooth withdrawal and a good agreement were delivered. They haven’t been, and I have therefore withdrawn my acquiescence!

    One point that nobody has yet mentioned is that, even if Boris or someone else asks for a further extension of the Brexit deadline, the EU may not be minded to agree. They could easily tell us to get out on Oct 31, deal or no deal. And frankly I wouldn’t blame them.

    I guess there is a chance of a government coming together in the next few weeks that might rescind our declaration under Article 50, and declare a reset and a rethink. I wouldn’t put a lot of money on it.

    Two of my four children work in the EU; and the partners of the other two have business interests there. I have now reached the stage where their well-being is pretty well the only thing that matters; and that those who voted unthinkingly for Brexit should be required to accept the consequences.

    1. I have this feeling the EU will grant extension(s) for as long as the UK asks. The way the UK is making a farce of itself would discourage any other would be ‘exiteers’.
      The longer this goes on, the clearer it becomes that leaving the EU, especially for a country in for almost half a century, is not really viable, Mr McCondell notwithstanding.

  20. in the middle of the most tumultuous period in UK history, probably since the 1640s (the Civil War).

    If you had said “politics” rather than “history” I might have agreed with you, but I can think of several tumultuous periods of UK history that outrank this one.

    The most recent of those is one, quite relevant this week i.e. the Second World War, that Britain entered 80 years ago on Tuesday.

    Brexiteers are quite fond of invoking the Second World War, the “Dunkirk spirit” in particular, but, of course, they forget that we joined the Second World War in support of Poland and France. We didn’t turn our back on our European allies back then, neither did we in the First World War. Our ancestors were made of sterner stuff.

    1. Good point, and an occasion to remind us what the EU (starting as the ECSC by the unsung brilliant visionaries Robert Schumann* and Jean Monnet) was all about (well, about more, but mainly): to integrate European powers (particularly France and Germany) economically to such a degree that war would become completely unthinkable.
      Whether you like the EU or not, it cannot be denied it has been successful there for nearly 70 years. The longest period of peace and prosperity in Western Europe ever.

      *we have good reason to think that this man, Robert Schuman, has done more for World peace than anybody else.

  21. The Brexitters seem to think that a no-deal exit will somehow force the EU to give the UK a better deal. What it will actually get them is no deal at all.

    Nothing about an exit-deal is going to change between now and Oct 31. If the Brexitters are so gung-ho to exit with no deal, why don’t they just do it next week?

    The EU should just scrap the deadline unilaterally, or extend it a couple of years. “Take all the time you wish, just let us know when you are leaving.” Then it would be up to the UK to decide if and when to shoot itself in the foot.

  22. My question (apologies if it is addressed in the comments, which I have not read), is this. Johnson has declared that he does not intend to follow the newly passed law and request an extension; he says that he will simply refuse to do so. I have seen it said in the media that he would potentially be imprisoned as a result. That’s nice and all, but it leaves open the question: if he refuses to ask for an extension, and perhaps is imprisoned as a result, does any mechanism kick in that prevents the UK from crashing out of the EU with no deal on the 31st? Is someone else empowered to ask for the extension, if Johnson is imprisoned? Or does he just go to prison, but the no-deal Brexit proceeds due to no request for an extension, and Johnson becomes an imprisoned martyr who is (only temporarily, perhaps) wildly popular with half of the country?

    1. I have been following all this news as closely as I can, but I have seen no mention in the media of this rather obvious scenario, in which Johnson – it seems to me – would have the last laugh.

    2. I think it was Lord Sumption who said that if the PM refuses to request an extension then an official would submit the request on the PM’s behalf. I’ve no idea if this is correct!

      Another possibility is that the opposition go to the Queen to form a government of national unity. Johnson, after all, no longer commands a majority, so the Queen should, I guess, agree to this. However, would the opposition parties be able to agree on a PM? Possibly not.

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