2007 - 2022

There is no ‘Oven-Ready’ Brexit Deal

Brexit is a long-term process, not an event. Resources are real and serious constraints, but the consequences of Brexit are unconstrained. Elections decide the fate of Governments, but not the real effects of the decisions electors have made; even over Brexit. All the things the electorate preferred to ignore in the general election, and the Conservative Party preferred to avoid or deflect public attention from contemplating, are coming soon to somewhere near you: like it or not.
Professor Catherine Barnard of Cambridge University, an authority on European Law has deconstructed the PM’s decision to turn his December 2020 deadline for the UK to leave the EU into statute. Barnard argues that it will not be possible to negotiate a comprehensive trade deal with the EU by the 2020 deadline (interview, BBC Radio 5 live 17th December). The principal reasons for the difficulty are that this deal is unprecedented; an international “de-alignment” deal of this kind is novel and therefore more challenging; trade deals are complex, covering not just goods but services (the latter critical to the UK); the force of these factors is that all that can be done by the 2020 deadline is a quick deal on “goods” (only one element of a trade deal) – what Barnard describes as a “quick and dirty” or “skinny” deal. A full trade deal is what Barnard terms, “a beautifully elastic concept”; what we are likely to see is “formally” a trade deal, but the reality will be “a rolling programme of negotiation”. 
Furthermore, Barnard raised the issue of “resource” – manpower. The UK has a relatively small team of expert negotiators who are going to undertake this colossal, rapid task. At the same time the UK is proposing that it will negotiate new deals with new potential trading partners (having automatically severed its current EU deals, often with these same partners), while these new partners will inevitably look to the framework of the deal that the UK strikes with the EU before negotiations begin with them. In other words, these deals will be sequential not concurrent.
The consequences of the quick and dirty deal will not take long to arrive. It should be noted, however that the international trade regime in services is notoriously weak, and does not have the long established body of law that has been built up in goods since 1947. This will be much more protracted and difficult. A goods deal, it should also be pointed out, is the part of a trade deal that also offers the EU a trade surplus with the UK. It is the single piece of the giant jigsaw that is Brexit, and that is, even potentially easy to fit. In consequence we may conclude that there is no ‘oven-ready’ Brexit deal to be had, save as a spurious misnomer.
Resource has been almost ignored in the whole Brexit debate, although it surfaced from time to time in embarrassment or scandal for the Government over ferry contracts, the readiness of ports, infrastructure weaknesses or the recruitment or readiness of adequate manpower, whether to negotiate the terms of a deal or to supervise their execution on the ground. It is insufficiently understood in the UK that there must inevitably be real weaknesses in expertise in British trade negotiation in the context of its immediate requirements, whether to negotiate international trade deals, or in the provision of adequate infrastructure or manpower to supervise the entry of goods, services or people that will follow. The reason for this follows from one of the advantages of being a member of the EU for over forty years; we have not required the scale of resources, manpower or expertise within the UK, because we have had frictionless trade with the EU, and the EU has provided perhaps the most formidable and skilled resource available in world trade to negotiate for us all the trade deals we have required. It is an illusion to believe that this forty year gap in expertise can be transformed overnight, and throwing money at it cannot produce a fast solution: but the Johnson government is now drafting policy as if it has the resources already.   
The Conservative Government is now working hard to make a linear, long-term process appear to the electorate to be a short, sharp conclusive event; without anyone noticing that they cannot actually serve all the new, incompatible and contradictory interests they have ‘successfully’ invited, only to “lend their support” on Brexit; with a cobbled story of ‘one nation Conservatism’, crudely and ironically born of driving the final plausible rump of such Conservatives out of the Party only a few weeks ago. Real ‘one nation Conservatism’ died long, long ago when Margaret Thatcher drove the ‘Wets’ out of the Party. Thus, the new Conservative-Brexit Party can only succeed in their implausible ambition to replace the old Conservative Party as a party of stable government, by systematically draining all meaning from the words they use, by habitualising the recourse to blatant contradiction, and legitimising political communication as the routine use of deception, deflection, distortion and the wholesale resort to misinformation. In other words, to make the 2019 election the template for all modern political discourse, and of Government communication. Nobody has any reason to believe anyone, on anything anymore: this is the substantive triumph of modern Conservatism.
Modern Conservatism is firmly rooted in the age of surveillance capitalism, in which we all now live. The traditional media, the regulators and the journalists are out of touch, not up to the task, and have comprehensively failed the polity. The power of the algorithm is slowly turning our democracy into one large rotten borough, under the nose of a blind media and indifferent political class. You and I are not supposed to notice. The real genius of this election, as it was in Vote.Leave, as it was in North East England when he demolished the local aspiration for regional devolution, is the only serious campaigner who actually seems to understand the English electorate, and has the capability to exploit its prejudices, and manipulate it very precisely to his will: Dominic Cummings. The commentator John Crace, who has tenaciously pursued the tawdry politics of Cummings and Johnson has the measure of them both: for Crace, Cummings “crowning achievement was to install an impostor as prime minister. Classic Dom” (The Guardian, 13th December, 2019). 

Image credit: David Peter Kerr, see: https://davidpeterkerr.net/


Comments (15)

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  1. Jo says:

    Could not agree more on John Crace.

  2. bringiton says:

    The main purpose of Brexit for the right wing Tories was to escape the restrictions imposed on them by the European courts.
    They view the economic price to be paid through increased cost of trade as a “bump in the road” on their path to deregulation.
    However,the EU will not tolerate a Singapore 30 miles off their coast and will do all they can to resist that through tough negotiations down the road.
    Perhaps the only option for BoJo and his cronies will indeed be no deal.

  3. Alex Wright says:

    The machinations of our cousins in the South are always worth keeping a rueful beady eye on, however, what if we use the same tactics in our hoose.
    Here’s a Wee thought experiment.
    In March/April, our First Minister resigns ( I know, I know ) but bear with me for a bit.
    Under S46(2)b and S46(3)a, if no new First Minister is elected then the Presiding Officer would have to ask for Parliament to be dissolved under S3(1)a.
    Should this come to pass, then we would be in an election situation for the Scottish Parliament.
    Now, using the same tactics that the Tories, Lib Dems and to a certain degree Labour participated in last weeks shenanigans, we contest the Election under a single issue, Independence.
    No more embarrassing ourselves requesting a Section 30 to hold a referendum. It would also nullify whatever spurious waffle that would emanate from the supposedly 4th estate and could be achieved relatively quickly.
    The main benefit of taking this route though, would be the legitimacy of the result. We would surely be fulfilling all criteria in the Court of World Opinion, including the Democracy Index ( of whom I have reservations) along with the U.N.
    Looking at Lord Ashcroft’s polls which were taken on the day of last week’s election and bearing in mind that our under 16’s along with our Euro countrymen/women never participated, then it’s a fair assessment to envisage an upward spike in favour for independence at this moment. This seems to be confirmed in my own conversations with previous Union supporters and although anecdotal there is a definite shift happening in the behavior and tone with which they are viewing their political landscape.
    I feel, that under this scenario and handled shrewdly we could be in an extremely strong position to achieve Indy and maintain our ties with the European Union, if we so wish.
    Could it be time to take one for the team Nicola?
    As I alluded to earlier in this comment, this is an idea which may have some merit, but feel free to correct me if I am wrong.

    1. Iain Lennox says:

      Interesting idea John.

      However, I believe your reference to under-16s should really read under-18s. It is they who were unable to vote in the recent GE, but who WOULD be voting in the next Scottish Parliamentary Election.

      1. Iain Lennox says:

        Oops.. that was supposed to be a reply to Alex .. not John !

  4. MMT is right says:

    What is life going to be like at the heart of Europe John ?

    Have you even thought it through or studied it for a decade like I have ?

    My guess is you have not even thought it through which leaves 2 options and both are non sensical for a truly independent country.

    Option 1: Single market ties us to all the deal the neoliberal fiscal rules out partner will be the IMF. You know how the IMF works now don’t you they are the world bank on steroids

    Option 2: A different shade of faux independence were we have to get down on our hands and knees in an EFTA court with free market judges to get policy through.

    Left wing voters voted leave John in their millions because they can see past their own noses. Once we leave and a left wing government wins they will not be hamstrung by the neoliberal globalist EU rules.

    Tell me John where is your LEXIT vision. You know how MMT works so where is your left wing vision of brexit ?

    What you do not have one ?

    Why not ?

    Tell me this railway news this week regarding abellio tell me John how does that fit in with the 2 options above?

    You need to think this stuff through John or the likes of you will trap us in the EU. Yes, people like you will be blamed U can assure you of that.

    1. Bill says:

      MMT the issue is not about rushing like the ‘Gaderene swine’ back into Europe. The issue is about choice. Were Scotland to be independent then there are many areas where powers currently reserved to Westminster would be granted to the Scottish Parliament. Thus the people of Scotland would have better choices in the way ahead. Of course one choice would be whether or not to apply to join the European Union. If that were to come to pass, then no doubt many of the issues you raise would obtain and require to be debated.

      Pending that outcome, could you just rein in the rhetoric, keep your powder dry till it is required


  5. MMT is right says:


    You have to watch this until it sinks in

    Keynote address by EFTA Court President Carl Baudenbacher


    Listen to the Q and A very carefully.

    This is Robin Macalpine and Craig Dalzell grand plan. Yet, Carl Baudenbacher He has served as a Judge of the EFTA Court from September 1995 to April 2018 and was the Court’s President from 2003 to 2017.

    Carl says time and time again the judges are free market, competition biased and decisions are made by the court around these decisions and neoliberal ” sound finance” logic.

    John, you understand MMT so if all people you should know what that means. Robin and Craig have not thought this through. They believe EFTA is the way around the EU fiscal rules.

    Begging on our hands and knees in front of these judges just to try and get the job guarentee or green new deal is not independence of any kind John. The EU court is a thousand times worse.

    Italy wanted to run a government budget deficit of 2.4% John. So as you know that means Italy wanted households and business to have a measly 2.4% surplus. It is nothing it is austerity John.

    Immediately the were put under the excessive debt procedure. Not allowed by the EU.

    Think about that John. Think it through.

    Scotland runs a 7-8% budget deficit and thus gives Scottish households and business a 7-8% surplus.

    Yet, countries at the heart of Europe are not allowed 2.4%

    Think about that John. Think it through.

    Scottish households and business surplus will have to be decimated John. The SNP have not told you how they are going to destroy Scottish household and business savings.

    a) cut spending drastically

    b) increase taxes drastically

    Or both to hit the targets to get into the EU.

    Which is what the growth commission was all about. Austerity on steroids and stay with austerity once you are in.

    Think it through John. No middle class art degree nonsense can wish this away.

  6. MMT is right says:

    John Grace is a clown.

    You know for a fact John Grace believes

    a) we are still on the gold standard

    b) use fixed exchange rates.

    A green new deal LEXIT would blow John Grace arguement out of the water.


    I have just been in Munich for 3 days and now in Stuttgart for 5 days. I meet up with SPD groups and sometimes do talks when I am here.

    What are the SPD groups talking about at their Xmas lunches ?

    The schwarze null – the black zero

    The trade surplus is too big

    The Euro

    Infrastructure is falling apart because skills and resources are being used on exports instead of on domestic policies.

    Even in Germany they are starting to recognise the EU is not working John. This is the first time I have heard it so clearly in all the years I have been coming here. We have told them for years what the problem is.

    Even today in the Stuttgarter Zeitung the main local news paper the SPD leader is talking about it.


    Read it yourself John.

    1. John S Warren says:

      Mr ‘MMT is right,’

      I have a prejudice. I do not take kindly to being lectured by anonymous commenters who feel the need to hide behind a pseudonym. I would usually let it pass, but I take particular exception to threats: “You need to think this stuff through John or the likes of you will trap us in the EU. Yes, people like you will be blamed U can assure you of that”. I will pass over the grammar and incoherence, the content is crass. Here is your method: “Have you even thought it through or studied it for a decade like I have ? My guess is you have not even thought it through which leaves 2 options and both are non sensical for a truly independent country.” You do not know anything about me, or what I have been doing in the last decade. So you guess. This, I take it, is how you tackle the problem of evidence. It does not impress. It doesn’t cut the mustard – it is lazy, over-opinionated, unreliable and overwhelmed by an inflated sense of self-importance. I have already lost interest in anything you have to say. It isn’t even interesting. Oh, and incidentally I do not consider myself ‘left wing’, whatever that means.

      Allow me to spell this out: I am more persuaded by the argument of a Pole who lived through the Warsaw Pact: Donald Tusk. The EU is first and foremost a “Peace Project”. That will do for me, and I will take the criticism, especially from anonymous trolls, who think they are entitled to pass off their insults by the pseudo friendly trick of calling the person who actually uses their own name in their articles, by their first name. I do not know who you are, I do not care who you are, and I do not care for you comments – or value them.

      Please feel free to comment here as much as you like; for myself I shall not comment further on you stultifying prose. My recommendation, for what that is worth, is that readers and commenters just move on, and leave you to lecture an empty thread.

      1. Interpolar says:

        Yes. And flawed as it is, the EU keeps some of the crazier Chinese and American bids for influence at bay, at least to some degree. Standing alone, European countries would be picked off one by one, rather like the UK is going to be in its envisioned transatlantic trade deal.
        Data protection, consumer rights and food standards are higher than elsewhere thanks to a common European framework.

  7. MMT is right says:

    One man that has stayed true to his convictions.

    If they had done this 3 years ago they would have won the election.


    Unfortunately, the liberal left, the neoliberals, the liberal middle class could not accept the result and threatened democracy. Want everyone to be run by unelected technocrats in Brussels.

    Who voted for Christine Lagarde !

    Was not the voters in the EU.

    1. JP58 says:

      MMT – who voted for Brexit (especially the hard form being envisaged by Tories)
      Not the voters of Scotland. This the nub of the argument – democracy.
      You have your Lexit views (naive in the extreme in my opinion – do you really believe a left wing Labour Party can be elected in England?)
      but the bottom line is the English & Welsh voted for a form of Brexit the Scots & N Irish did not!
      The English and Welsh are getting their wishes , Irish & Scots not and the Scots are being completely disregarded in its implementation.

  8. majid says:

    majid Mughal.
    However, I believe your reference to under-16s should really read under-18s. It is they who were unable to vote in the recent GE, but who WOULD be voting in the next Scottish Parliamentary Election.http://whatisalife.com/

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