Archive for the 'BREXIT' Category


The one thing that could impede Brexit is a high-level Leave defection

Thursday, February 22nd, 2018

Get ready for more of this in the next 13 months

I’m sure that this week’s tour of Britain by the anti Brexit bus, featured above, will bring some comfort to those who believe that leaving the EU is wrong and want to stop it.

The Leave bus during the run up to June 23rd 2016 become iconic and clearly it is quite smart to use the same approach and visual identity in this campaign. It is also a reminder of the £350m a week claim that featured on that bus.

Maybe it will help add to the turbulent mood. Maybe not.

    For to my mind the only way that the anti-Brexiteers can stop the UK leaving the EU is if some big political figure closely connected with Leave decides to switch sides. A Boris perhaps?

Maybe as we get closer to the day and the complications of leaving continue to mount such a person could emerge and present themselves as the saviour because they see it as the best way of furthering their own ambitions.

One thing is for sure and that is that the Leave faction is nervous about what might happen hence the attempts to rubbish the Good Friday Agreement because of the complications across the Irish Sea.

The message from this latest bus campaign is that there are people who think it can be stopped and are going to ratchet up their efforts.

Whether this will all be to no avail I don’t know. Whatever the next thirteen months are set to be interesting

Mike Smithson


Tick Tock Two. There is more than one countdown taking place

Wednesday, February 21st, 2018

Looking beyond March 29 2019

Earlier this week I wrote about the likelihood that Britain will leave the EU on the current scheduled date of 29 March 2019. My logic was simple: the timetable is preset, adjusting it requires the consent of a lot of different parties and there is no sign yet that many people in Britain have changed their minds. You can still back that proposition at 5/4 on Betfair and it still looks to me to be outstanding value.

For the last few months, the polls on the referendum have shown a pretty consistent picture. With the benefit of hindsight, the public is evenly split but on balance thinks that leaving the EU was the wrong decision. Few have changed their minds. Slightly more Leave voters than Remain voters are open to the idea that they got it wrong but the shift has been caused by non-voters at the referendum breaking decisively for Remain.

In the short term, this doesn’t really have any significance. Unless public opinion moves far more decisively towards a change of heart, the momentum from the referendum vote will comfortably carry the country over the precipice of leaving the EU next March.

Then what? Imagine a Britain where no one ever changes their mind about Brexit. It’s easy if you try – social media is full of hardcore supporters on both sides yelling at each other across a chasm of values. The public has had over two years of hearing the arguments on both sides. Perhaps it’s not that surprising if most people should have reached a firmly settled resting point.

If everyone has picked their side in the Brexit values war, how does the war end? It’s a war between young unhappy metropolitans and old uneducated provincials: the blue and the grey, if you like. In this war of attrition, the young have time on their side.

In a very few years with no one changing their mind, Leave supporters will die off disproportionately, leaving a substantial structural majority for the pro-EU side in a surprisingly short space of time unless the members of the Leave Majority who have joined the Great Majority are replaced by new recruits. A country that eventually decisively believed that leaving the EU was the wrong decision would be highly likely to explore rejoining it at some point in the future. More than one clock is ticking.

What this means, therefore, is that Leave need not just to take Britain out of the EU but to start the process of changing their erstwhile opponents’ minds. They have three possibilities: the facts change to an extent that reachable Remain supporters change their minds, the public decide that regardless of who’s right or wrong they don’t want to think about Europe any more or Leave are able to reposition Brexit in a different place in the values war.

Leave supporters have done their best to minimise their chances on all fronts. What have Remain voters heard since the referendum? Accusations that opponents of Brexit are enemies of the people, saboteurs and traitors. Leave advocates have done everything to ensure that the public are forced to pick a side.

Those that have already picked Remain have been entrenched in that decision ever since. Leave supporters rightly note that dismal economic projections are not going to shift anyone from Leave to Remain. They seem unaccountably optimistic that good economic news might do the reverse. Values trump facts. This is not a one way street.

What of a charm offensive? Leave have gone in the opposite direction, claiming ever more stringent versions of Leave are required if Britain is not going to Brexit in name only. Boris Johnson supposedly sought to reach out to Remain supporters in his recent speech advocating a liberal Brexit, which, however, was trailed in advance with the use of the word “betrayal”. You have to wonder what is going on under that blond mop.

If Leave supporters really are going to make the case for a liberal Brexit, they are going to need to choose their language carefully. One-off speeches aren’t going to do the trick. Until you’re sick of the sound of your own voice, you haven’t said it enough. The most prominent Leavers, however, have the problem that many Remain supporters are already sick of the sound of their voices.

In practice, however, Leave cannot make the case for a liberal Brexit because a large part of Leave’s own supporters want no part of that. So a repositioning of Brexit looks predestined to fail.

Right now Leave’s best bet is sheer fatigue. But that would still leave the country in the long term believing that it had made a wrong turn in 2016 and was just making the best of a bad job. Even if that works, that’s not a very auspicious legacy, is it?

And that looks the likeliest best case scenario. At least as likely is a scenario where the public in time comes decisively to reject Brexit, rejoin the EU (presumably on worse terms than Britain left it) and where Leave becomes synonymous with a reactionary disaster.

So, how do Leavers propose to take things from here? They’ve spent far too long fighting the last battle. The next one is going to require a strategic genius.

Alastair Meeks


The money continues to go on Brexit NOT happening by March 29th next year – but the gap’s tightening

Tuesday, February 20th, 2018

Twelve month chart from

Everyday for months, it seems, the news has been dominated by developments over Brexit and tinight, of course, we have the letter from 62 conservative MPs saying to Theresa May that they want a hard exit.

But the Westminster numbers remain very tight and it is hard to come to any definitive conclusion over what form of Brexit will be agreed or whether something else might come along to put a total spanner into the works.

One such one diversion over the past few days over Northern Ireland relates to the implications for the Good Friday Agreement, which of course was what brought the Troubles to an end in 1998. The way some proponents of hard Brexit are ready to rubbish the Good Friday Agreement suggest that they see the danger for their position of this not being resolved.

Meanwhile March 29th 2019 gets even closer.

Mike Smithson


Tick tock. Betting on the date of the UK’s exit from the EU

Monday, February 19th, 2018

Is it going to be March 29 next year?

Can you hear it? That is the sound of inevitability. Shambolic though the government’s preparations have been for Brexit, failing to explain its proposals to the public, the EU or even itself, the time to exit continues to approach. When the government gave notice under Article 50, a two year timetable was set in motion. That will expire at 11pm (GMT) on Friday 29 March 2019. Nothing the government has done or not done since then has altered that timetable.

Legally, there are only four ways in which that date and time could be altered. First, the government could withdraw its notification under Article 50. That may or may not be accepted as lawful in practice by the EU and other member states, though I expect it would if were done with a genuine change of heart.

Secondly, all parties could reach agreement before that date on choose a different date for the coming into force of the withdrawal agreement. That could be earlier or later. To do this, however, agreement would need to be reached before the two year deadline was up, or the two year deadline would kick in by default. The EU does not have much of a track record of concluding negotiations early, nor does this one look likely at present to be the exception to the rule.

Thirdly, the council and all member states could agree to extend the period. This would be far from straightforward to secure and if the extension were to go beyond a few weeks, this would mean that the UK would be entitled to continuing representation in the European Parliament, which the other member states emphatically would not accept. This therefore looks unlikely. Better to devote everyone’s energies to concluding the deal on time instead.

Fourthly, the government could change the time or the date in the UK. This is not without precedent – in 1752, eleven days were dropped from the calendar to move Britain from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar (it is why the tax year ends on 5 April rather than 25 March, Lady Day). This isn’t the happiest of precedents, since it provoked riots at the time. In case you’re wondering, clocks are scheduled to go forward at 1am on 31 March 2019, so Britain will still be on GMT on 29 March.

Enough of legalities, what about practicality? Britain doesn’t look set to have a change of heart. While the public seems to be leaning, with the benefit of hindsight in the direction of thinking that leaving the EU is the wrong decision, there is no real impetus to rethink the whole idea – the change is largely being driven by non-voters at the referendum breaking firmly for Remain.

Most voters have stuck with their original decision. A fresh referendum looks firmly odds against, never mind actually a volte face. Leavers should be fretting about the long term implications of making no converts (their own voter base, being far older on average, will die off quite rapidly, potentially leaving a Remainer-skewed residue), but that’s a five to ten year crisis, not a problem for next year.

You can bet on whether Britain will leave the EU by 29/03/2019. It’s worth citing the rules in full:

“Will the United Kingdom officially leave the European Union before the 29/03/2019 – 23:59:59?

    For the purposes of this market leaving the EU is defined as the date when the treaties of the EU cease to apply to the UK. Examples of when this might occur include, but are not limited, to: the date specified in a withdrawal agreement between the UK and the EU; the end of the two year negotiating period (29/03/2019) as set out by Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty (or any extension to this time period); or the date of the repeal of the 1972 European Communities Act.

If more than one of these events were to occur, this market will be settled on the first of these events to occur. In the case of the two year time period in Article 50 being extended, via a unanimous vote by all EU Member States, we will settle this market on the extended date. This market will settle when the UK leaves the EU even if parts of the UK (e.g. Scotland, Northern Ireland) leave the UK or receive special status within the EU.

In the event of any ambiguity over an announcement, Betfair may determine, using its reasonable discretion, how to settle the market based on all the information available to it at the relevant time. Betfair reserves the right to wait for further official announcements before the market is settled.

Betfair will not be responsible for suspending the market when an official announcement is made. However, Betfair will suspend the market as soon as it becomes aware of an official announcement. Betfair expressly reserves the right to suspend and/or void any and all bets on this market at any time in the event that Betfair is not satisfied (in its absolute discretion) with the certainty of the outcome.”

You will note that the end of the two year period (including any extensions) is one of the defined triggers and the market will be settled on the first event to occur.

So I cannot for the life of me understand why you can back “Yes” in this market (and the sister market on Brexit Date by quarter periods) at 6/4. To my eyes, this would probably be value at 1/4. I’ve backed this one heavily. Clearly others feel very differently. So, what am I missing?

Alastair Meeks


Boundary conditions. How Brexit might be helping to lay the ground for the SNP

Friday, February 16th, 2018

Some international boundaries are easy to understand. The Pyrenees form a natural frontier between Spain and France. The Kattegat conveniently separates Sweden and Denmark. While in the past each pair of countries has seen their border shift over time, the current resting place looks very natural.

The boundary between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland does not come in that category. There are few obvious natural boundaries along the route. Donegal is almost cut off from the rest of the Republic of Ireland. Roads snake in and out of the border. Despite or because of its fraught history, it is all rather arbitrary.

The boundary was established in some disorder at the height of the Irish war of independence. As a quick solution, the six most north-easterly counties were retained within the UK on their existing county lines. This made no particular sense on religious grounds, since substantial parts of those six counties were majority Catholic even at that time. The boundary was originally supposed to be reviewed but in the end the review proved too controversial to see through to its conclusion. So the impromptu boundary stuck.

The contrast between the border’s informal origins and its fraught history is stark. After a lot of bloodshed, a way forward for Northern Ireland was brokered through the Good Friday Agreement. Any Brexit settlement is going to need to deal with not just the way in which the EU and the UK wish to establish their ongoing relationship but also to address the hopes and fears of both Northern Irish communities.

The Northern Irish border will be the main land border between Britain and the EU (pedants will note that there will also be EU/UK land borders at Gibraltar and in Cyprus). If Britain is to be outside the customs union, as hardline Leavers are suddenly insisting is essential to honour the Brexit vote, the UK is going to need to put in place a system for monitoring the new trade boundary.

If it fails to do so, it will in substance be giving the EU preferential access over other nations with which the UK trades. It is hard to see how that is consistent with Britain’s Most Favoured Nation obligations under the WTO, under which it must offer all WTO members the terms offered to the otherwise most favoured trading partner. And it needs to do so in a way that is not going to have either the nationalists up in arms because the border has been resurrected or the unionists up in arms because the boundary of the customs union has been moved to the Irish Sea. In each case, “up in arms” has the nasty potential to be literal rather than metaphorical.

The main part of the Brexit agreement is going to require all the élan of Fred Astaire. Those aspects that deal with the Irish border are going to require the skills of Ginger Rogers, who did everything that Fred Astaire did, but in high heels and backwards.

Other better brains than mine are looking at how this might be achieved. For present purposes, I’m going to assume that a solution of some kind will be found. I’m a sunny optimist, you see.

At that point, the UK government will have provided the Scottish government with a route map to dealing with many of the trickier aspects of independence. The Irish border is longer than England’s borders with Scotland and Wales put together. The two English counties and the two Scottish counties that border each other are collectively bigger and emptier than the five Northern Irish counties that border the Republic of Ireland (never mind the Irish counties on the other side of the border).

The practical, legal and technological problems of a border between Scotland and England look far more straightforward than those of a border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. A precedent would have been established as to the nature of the enduring relationship between the two sides after they had disentangled.

When the Scottish independence referendum was fought in 2014, one of the biggest weaknesses that Scotland faced was on the practicalities of transition to independence. In a few years’ time the Scottish nationalists may well find themselves with a manual for many aspects, courtesy of Brexit.

For now, the cause of Scottish independence has slipped back slightly from its high water mark. The unionist cause, having been in disarray, has become more organised. After an initial spasm after the EU referendum result, it seems that Scottish opinion is as-you-were so far as independence is concerned.

The SNP, however, has not given up on the cause and it will be waiting for the right moment to declare that a generation is up. When it does, it will be much better prepared on the technicalities than first time around. So Unionists are going to need to be much better prepared than they were last time round on the questions of identity. They don’t look it yet.

Alastair Meeks


EU/Europe: The issue that’s cost the last 3 CON PMs their jobs. Will TMay be next?

Wednesday, February 14th, 2018

Polls show that concerns about Europe/EU are linked to whether the Tories are in power or not

I like the above chart which makes a strong point that the EU becomes an issue amongst voters when the Tories are in power.

The data comes from the Ipsos-MORI Issues Index in which those sampled are asked unprompted what they think the major issues facing the country are. It has operated like this for more than 40 years and it is widely regarded as a good measure of salience.

What is striking is that the main developments of Britain’s relationship with what became the EU happened when the Tories were in government. Ted Heath in the early 70s took the UK in and it was his successor as CON leader, Mrs Thatcher, who played a big part in the evolution of the single market.

John Major’s period in office from 1990—1997 was totally dominated by the EU which exposed the huge fault lines within the party.

It was Cameron, of course, with his commitment to a referendum that had led to Brexit and the current divide within the party over the shape of that. Brexit cost Cameron his job as Europe/EU played a huge part in the departures of Thatcher and Major.

This has totally dominated the news for several years and will go on doing so.

The Conservative party had most of gain and most to lose from the success of Brexit.

Mike Smithson


Poll shows Leave voters would stay mostly solid even if Brexit hurts economy, their finances and the NHS

Wednesday, February 14th, 2018

Above in the chart is a new BMG poll which seeks to ascertain the attitudes of Leave voters to negative aspects of Brexit. It was commissioned by Left Foot Forward.

The problem here, of course, is that it is all totally hypothetical. Such things were said during the referendum campaign itself and Leaver voters, clearly, were not taken aback then.

So why should we be surprised when more than a year before Brexit those who voted that way should feel the same?

I think that this form of polling is very difficult and is akin to the efforts to do voting intention surveys on potential alternative party leaders. Remember all those polls that had Gordon Brown marked down before he became PM in June 2007 and then he enjoyed a honeymoon for a few months when he could do no wrong?

What happens after March next year is very difficult to predict. If say the Japanese car manufacturers move out, the City gets undermined and Britain’s pharmaceutical industry contracts then GDP could decline and we could all be a bit poorer. But we don’t know.

The biggest negativity for Leave comes on the NHS question which is not surprising given the huge political sensitivity of it. That claim on the side of the Leave campaign bus will be brought up by Remainers for years to come.

Mike Smithson


The LDs appear to be returning to their former role as NOTA – none of the above

Tuesday, February 13th, 2018

I’ve just come across the above chart which shows an interesting picture of vote movements in council by-elections since GE17.

Clearly the collapse of UKIP is having a big impact and in almost every segment of seats, based on the defending party, LAB, CON and the LDs have moved forward.

What is striking is that in the former UKIP seats the biggest gainer has been the LDs vote increase which, on the face of it seems counter-intuitive.

My reading is that what is happening I is that as memory of the coalition fades the LDs are returning to their traditional role as “none of the Above”.

Mike Smithson