Archive for the 'BREXIT' Category

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A man of principles. Boris Johnson and the EU

Wednesday, August 21st, 2019

If consistency is the sign of a small mind, then Boris Johnson must have a brain the size of a planet. For he has slid from position to position on the EU like Bambi on ice.

In 2003, he opened a speech to the House of Commons, in which he advocated Turkish membership of the EU, thus: 

“It is hard to think of a measure that the Government could have brought to the House that I could support more unreservedly and with greater pleasure than this Bill to expand the European Union. To sum up my response, I would merely say, “And about time too.” 

He went on to confirm: “I am not by any means an ultra-Eurosceptic. In some ways, I am a bit of a fan of the European Union. If we did not have one, we would invent something like it.”

By 2012 he was already flirting with Euroscepticism. Nevertheless, he was at pains to reassure the public that his vision meant that: “We could construct a relationship with the EU that more closely resembled that of Norway or Switzerland – except that we would be inside the single market council, and able to shape legislation”. He confirmed in 2013 that he would vote to stay in the single market and that he was in favour of it.

In early 2016 he famously wrote two articles, one in favour of Leave and one in favour of Remain, before plumping for team Brexit.  

Vote Leave chose to prioritise immigration control over access to the single market in their ultimately-successful campaign, demonising the Turks that Boris Johnson himself had previously campaigned in Parliament to allow into the EU. Nevertheless, Boris Johnson still hankered after his earlier position, stating even in the wake of the referendum result that Britain could have access to the single market (something that was rapidly squelched from Brussels).

Negotiations with the EU did not go well. Still, in July 2017 he announced with his sunny optimism that “There is no plan for no deal, because we’re going to get a great deal”. He did not help with the negotiating process. In the same speech he said that the EU could “go whistle” if they expected Britain to pay a settlement on withdrawing from the EU.

Britain nevertheless agreed to make a payment to settle its obligations in September 2017 and in December 2017 he congratulated the Prime Minister’s successful negotiation of the first stage (which included an agreement to this payment, the foundations of the Northern Irish backstop and protections for EU citizens in Britain). As late as March 2018, he opined that “The PM’s Mansion House speech sets out a clear and convincing vision for our future partnership with the EU”. He wobbled back and forth for the first half of 2018, with his apotheosis being first to toast the Chequers proposal and then, three days later (after David Davis had resigned), to resign over it.

In September 2018, he described the Chequers plan as “substantially worse than the status quo”. He maintained that position when the final deal emerged in November 2018, describing it even before its release as “vassal state stuff”.  Despite that, Boris Johnson eventually voted for it in March 2019 at the third time of asking.

In March 2019 and April 2019, Britain twice confirmed to the EU (in return for obtaining an extension to the Article 50 notice period) that it would not seek to reopen negotiations over the withdrawal agreement.

Boris Johnson secured leadership of the Conservative party and with it the Premiership, campaigning on leaving the EU on 31 October 2019, deal or no deal. He now argues that this is required to respect the referendum result, despite having wafted away the idea of no deal as late as a year after the referendum result.

It is against that background that we must assess Boris Johnson’s current line on the EU. His workrate has declined. He wrote two articles in 2016 before deciding how to campaign in the referendum. This month, he wrote only half a letter to the EU setting out his revised position.

He sets out his objections but does not propose a solution. The backstop that formed part of the interim deal that he had once congratulated the Prime Minister on is now described as “anti-democratic”. He wants the problem to be looked at in the next phase. He recognises that “there would need to be a degree of confidence about what would happen if these arrangements were not all fully in place at the end of that period. We are ready to look constructively and flexibly at what commitments might help”.

When you’re looking to rewrite an agreement – especially one that your side has specifically agreed twice that it will not seek to rewrite –it’s usually best to have a clear proposal that your weary negotiating partners can weigh. And when you’re looking to build confidence – especially when you have skidded all over the place on a subject – you need to have a simple and compelling proposition. Since his government also simultaneously appears to be undermining the protections offered to EU citizens in Britain that had previously been agreed by a government he formed part of, it is hard to take this latest development remotely seriously.  

Boris Johnson is many things but he is not stupid. He will not have high hopes that this initiative will result in changes to the withdrawal agreement. His hopes lie elsewhere. He has spent the best part of 20 years telling the British public on the subject of the EU whatever he thinks will best serve his interests.  Given his track record, you might well think that he is insulting the British public’s intelligence. Sadly, it seems only too likely that he has its accurate measure.

Alastair Meeks




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The Season of Myths

Monday, August 19th, 2019

As we approach witching hour, a handy cut-out and keep guide to some of the more common Brexit myths.

Britain will be in good company outside the EU.

There are lots and lots of countries outside the EU, mostly surviving, many thriving happily, say Leavers. What are we so afraid of? Well, yes, there are. The majority in fact. (Though not the majority of countries in Europe.) But it’s a false comparison. The number of countries who have been in the EU for over 4 decades and left overnight is zero. The only part of the EU which has ever left was Greenland, and that after 12 years.  It remains an EU overseas territory subject to many EU laws; its citizens are EU citizens. So not that much of an exit.  Britain is not a Greenland, save possibly that Britain’s current government seems willing to barter parts of the country’s assets to get an FTA with the US, Greenland being rather firmer in stating that it and its assets are not for sale.

Of course, countries can thrive outside the EU. But there is a difference between having a society and economy which has developed outside the EU and having one which has developed inside it and then decides to cut all those ties overnight.  The latter will certainly be a case of British exceptionalism.  Quite what sort we will soon find out.

Brexit is a Conservative move.

Britain should never have joined the EU; Brexit merely corrects that mistake. Joining was a very unconservative act; it’s only right that today’s Conservatives should be the ones to restore national sovereignty.  So goes the argument. Arguably, the development of the EU over 43 years in many small steps slowly changing from what it was then to what it is now is a somewhat conservative approach to change: slow and incremental rather than one Big Bang.  But even if not, it is possible for both the original decision to join and the decision to leave to be mistakes.  An original mistake is not necessarily corrected by reversing it 46 years later.  And such a reversal – especially if done overnight as currently intended – is not obviously very conservative.  It is quite the opposite of slow and incremental. Rather revolutionary, in fact.

The Status Quo Ante.

This applies to both Leavers and Remainers. Some Leavers seem to think that life will be as it was pre-1973 (though without all the bad bits – inflation, strikes, dreadful food and bombs in Northern Ireland – oops! maybe scratch that last one). A misty-eyed romanticism involving the Commonwealth is usually somewhere in the background.

Remainers too have simply ignored the fact that, were Brexit to be reversed or were Britain to rejoin the EU in short order, its relationship with the rest of the EU would be irrevocably changed (even if all current opt-outs were maintained).  And the EU too is changing, as the new Commission President’s suggestion that QMV be used for taxation matters demonstrates. (How will “No taxation without representation” cope with that?) There is no going back for either side. Neither is really thinking about the future. This is a particular problem for Remainers/the “No to No-Deal Brexit” brigade. What do they want? No wonder all their focus is on short-term tactics. But what is their strategy?

We Have a Plan.

Contingency planning is being done; has been done even. (Or not, depending on whether the Leaver wants praise or to blame someone else.) There is no need to worry. Any concerns are just Project Fear: unwarranted and a slur on British pluck and self-belief.  “There is nothing to fear but fear itself” as Boris might have said, had he reached the letter “R” in his Big Boys’ Book of Quotations.  But there is all the difference in the world between contingency planning for one-off and usually short-term events (where quite a lot can be done) and planning for continuing disruption and change, let alone for the unknown unknowns arising from such change.  As the Gibraltar Government has said: “the fact that the Government has responsibly done everything possible does not mean that things will not be different…….That means changes even in the basic, underlying infrastructure of life.”  It can all be neatly summarised in their phrase “not a bed of roses”.  And that’s for 34,571 people in 6.7 kms².  Imagine what needs doing for a landmass of 242,495 kms² populated by 68,833,829 people.

A Wonderful Liberation for the Country.

Yes, well, only if one believes that the country has been oppressed by the EU. But let’s put that to one side. The author of that phrase, the current Leader of the House, a year after describing Brexit thus, said: “The overwhelming opportunity for Brexit is over the next 50 years.”  Which will be scant comfort to sheep farmers wondering if they will have a market for next year’s lambs or the elderly wondering if there will be care workers to help them get washed and dressed or any exporter to the EU wondering if they’re allowed to keep data about customers based in the EU.  Still, it’s nice to know that liberation now means not having to follow regulations you’ve had a role in drafting and agreeing to and not, as it has meant for most of Europe in the last century, freedom from brutal, violent dictatorships. What a marvellously supple language English is!

Parliament will not permit a No Deal Brexit.

A myth? Each and every MP is against something. There is no end to the list of things that MPs don’t want. What is proving mythical is finding the one thing that a majority of them do want and are able to enact.  Herding fat camels through invisible needles would be an easier task.

Desperate as everyone is to move on from Brexit, I fear I bring bad news. There are three issues which will dominate British politics for the foreseeable future:-

 (1) What the consequences of a No Deal Brexit will mean for our politics. Will those who voted for it benefit from it? And if not, how will they react? And how will those who bear its costs behave? 

(2) What the Remainers/Anti-No Dealers will do. Will they campaign to rejoin the EU? And, if not, where will their votes go?

(3) What sort of relationship Britain will have with the EU in future. And how it will get it.

 Perhaps the biggest myth of all is that Brexit will be over on 31 October 2019.  If only.

CycleFree




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What will the UK interest rate be at the end of 2019?

Sunday, August 18th, 2019

I really don’t know much about economics and the intricacies of how and interest rates are set by the Bank of England, looking at this market from Paddy Power is a bit like pinning the tail on the donkey for me.

My theory on this market is that is Project Fear turns out to be very close to Project Reality then Sterling will seriously and quickly tank as we head to No Deal.

The only time I can remember a similar situation in my lifetime was the legacy of Margaret Thatcher’s final act of European integration came under attack from the Brexiteer bogeyman George Soros on Black Wednesday.

Back in 1992 interest rates were raised from 10% to 12% then a further increased was announced to 15% so raising interest rates is one lever to stop your currency tanking, albeit in 1992 the government set the interest rates, now that power resides with the Governor of the Bank of England. The interest rate increases were cancelled the next day but my hunch any increases will last longer especially given that how historically low current interest rates are

On that basis I think the value is backing the 14/1 on interest rates being 2% or higher at the end of the year but perhaps PBers can convince where the value in this market is. Over to you.

TSE



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Meet the next Prime Minister. Maybe

Sunday, August 18th, 2019

Could this former member of the Monday Club be our next Prime Minister?

John Bercow as Prime Minister seems outlandish even in these interesting times. There’s not enough bandwdith on the information superhighway to list all the reasons why this is a bad idea or why John Bercow is so unsuited to be Prime Minister but given the desperation amongst MPs to stop a No Deal Brexit then something outlandish needs to happen.

Do I think Bercow has the ego to think he could be the man to prevent no deal? Hell yes! Is Bercow prepared to set aside Parliamentary convention? Hell yes, in fact he did just that earlier on this year.

Today’s Sunday Times has the following story

Many years ago someone told me that ‘Napoleon had a Bercow complex’, now that Bercow is involved in a plot to stop a No Deal Brexit then it isn’t hard to see how the conversation turns to him offering himself as himself as the man you need if you want a temporary non partisan (sic) Prime Minister to prevent No Deal.

I can see how that might appeal to MPs who really don’t want to make Jeremy Corbyn Prime Minister, it could appeal to Corbyn to make someone Prime Minister who really won’t be Prime Minister for long, nor leads or is a member of a political party.

I’ve stated that I consider this a pretty outlandish suggestion, the bookies agree, at the time of writing no bookie has John Bercow listed in the next PM market, but they do have another Arsenal fan, Piers Morgan, at 500/1 but if Bercow is added in this market I’d be very interested, depending on the odds.

I think MPs who respect the referendum result but are implacably opposed to both a No Deal Brexit and a Corbyn Premiership are looking for a ‘Hail Mary’ option Bercow as Prime Minister could well be it. Having one person concurrently holding the job of Speaker and Prime Minister would ensure the smooth running of the government in Parliament, something that hasn’t been happening recently.

TSE



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Woodcock is right: Remain’s grand strategy is so muddled as to not exist

Saturday, August 17th, 2019

What use do Remainers hope another A50 extension would be put to?

Boris Johnson’s Brexit plan is commendably clear: leave on 31 October without a deal. The clarity might be the only thing that’s commendable about it and it leaves many questions open about what happens into November and beyond but on the central point of Britain’s EU membership, the issue would be closed.

Johnson and the rest of the government might argue that No Deal isn’t technically the government’s policy and that they leave open the possibility of leaving with a deal, and indeed would prefer to. Such an assertion, however, runs contrary to two key facts. Firstly, the demands to remove the N Irish backstop in entirety is clearly so unacceptable to the EU and leaves so little room for concession from London that it’s extremely difficult to see how a deal is remotely possible. And secondly, even if a deal could be done – presumably at the October European Council summit – there simply wouldn’t be time for parliament to ratify it (which requires a Bill to enact the Withdrawal Agreement into law first) before the end of the month. The policy is No Deal, do or die.

Against which, the policy of those opposed to No Deal is what, exactly? In the first instance, secure a further Article 50 extension, either by forcing the government to request and accept one through legislation or by changing the government. That much at least makes sense: lose that battle and they lose the war. But then?

As the ex-Lab, now-Ind, MP John Woodcock rightly pointed out, no-one’s really come up with a credible grand strategy that thinks beyond the next couple of months at most. Indeed, the fact that there are at least three different plans in circulation for that first stage alone (a Cooper II Act, a VoNC and a Corbyn government, and a VoNC followed by a non-Corbyn-led government), highlights the difficulties that the anti-No Deal forces face in September and October, never mind beyond. Unless the disparate groupings can unite around one strategy, chances are that all will fail when the numbers are so tight to begin with.

Of course, the ‘anti-No Deal’ party isn’t anything like a party at all. For one thing, its MPs come from many different political parties – although on an issue this important, that’s not necessarily critical. What is critical is that it’s split into those who are prepared to tolerate some form of Brexit, and those who aren’t. While they’re all opposing No Deal, that division doesn’t matter; as soon as they get the chance to set their own agenda, it is.

Let’s game through those three initial options to identify where they come unstuck.

Constitutionally, the most natural solution where the Commons is opposed to an absolutely core policy of the government is to No Confidence that government and replace it. In this case, where there government has no majority and where no MP from the governing party could take office within the existing administration’s framework (i.e. a Con minority government with DUP Confidence and Supply support), that would usually mean the Leader of the Opposition being invited to the Palace.

Unfortunately, the Leader of the Opposition is toxic to too many MPs to lead a TANDA (Temporary Anti-No Deal Administration – it wouldn’t be a GNU; there is no NU). The Lib Dems might have been the first to pour cold water on the idea but they’ve been joined by what remains of Change UK – unsurprising given both the reasons for the ex-Lab members defecting in the first place, and that Corbyn didn’t even bother to ask them despite their five MPs being critical to the success of the project.

If the purpose of a TANDA was simply to head a government for a few days to gain the A50 extension, it might be tolerable for Corbyn to head it but the reality is that woudn’t be the case. If a Confidence vote is tabled in September, it’d be more than a month to the EU summit and then even if an election was immediately called, polling day wouldn’t be until late November. Corbyn could easily be PM for getting on for three months before an election.

And crucially, the question that’s not been adequately answered: what after the election? We presumably still have Johnson and Corbyn leading the two main parties: the one is still committed to leaving at the earliest opportunity, the other to leaving after negotiating his own deal which could take years. Unless the Lib Dems can somehow form a government, an election still delivers either a No Deal Brexit or a Corbyn government and, maybe, a lesser Leave. For many, both Brexit policies and both PMs are unacceptable.

What then of the ‘Cooper II’ option: forcing Johnson to request and accept (subject perhaps to Commons ratification) another Article 50 extension? Assuming the EU27 agree to the request, the plan’s attractive to some in that it avoids the necessity of having to take control of the executive but it still fails to look beyond that event. May was willing to go along with Cooper I because she wanted a deal. By contrast, Boris isn’t bothered and leaving him in No 10 changes nothing fundamentally.

However, Boris doesn’t have to meekly comply with a Cooper II Act: he could resign. Doing so would not only absolve him of any responsibility to implement a policy he’s committed to reject, and also – probably – trigger an election, though presumably the PM appointed in his place, even though he or she didn’t have the Commons’ confidence, would still – as they’d be obliged to do – request the A50 extension (this may cause problems if Commons ratification is required by the Act but parliament has already been dissolved when the extension is granted).

But once again: what then? A Cooper II does nothing but kick the can. Remain would be not a jot closer to achieving their aim and the best that its proponents might hope for would be to discredit Johnson and split the No Deal vote – but to what end? The alternative would remain a lengthy Corbyn government that might still take Britain out anyway.

So what of a non-Corbyn TANDA? The first objection is clearly that such a government would be extremely difficult to put together and require Corbyn’s assent – presumably after he’d tried and failed to form a government himself. Such assent may well not be forthcoming and without it, the country might well find itself propelled into the vortex of both a No Deal Brexit and a general election by automatic operation of the law but without any positive intent.

However, let’s suppose it could be done. Again, we run up against the barrier of the likely imminent election. Could Corbyn continue to support a TANDA once it had achieved the first objective of gaining the extension? What would its mandate be? Its policies, domestic, Brexit and otherwise foreign? And if there were to then be an election, wouldn’t the public be being given much the same choices that parliament had themselves rejected – unless there was a major realignment in the parties?

This all sounds fairly hopeless and in the current situation, it is. Not only do the diverse objectives of the anti-No Dealers to some extent cancel each other out, with the likely result that Johnson will get his way, but even if he can be stopped for now, at what cost and for how long? The policy of a referendum under Labour may well be a chimera, with perhaps two years of renegotiations and then months more before a referendum could be held. Could a Corbyn government last that long – and if it could, what would it do in the interim? Yet what is the alternative? The theoretical (if otherwise logical) possibility of discontented MPs defecting from their own party won’t happen because they know that divided, the ‘other side’ will win, which in current circumstances would be even more intolerable than the policy of their own leadership (never mind personal considerations).

The current odds of a No Deal 2019 Brexit are slight odds-against. That seems some way too long to me. The disunity on the anti-No Deal side, both in parties and in objectives – short term and long term – is sufficient to persuade me that Johnson is likely to get his way and lead Britain out of the EU on Halloween.

David Herdson



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Get ready for a weekend’s intense campaigning for the Westminster by-election that might never happen

Friday, August 16th, 2019

This weekend hundreds of LAB and LD activists will be heading for Sheffield Hallam, home of PB’s TSE, where there might or might not be a Westminster by-election in the next couple of months.

This has been triggered by the statements last month by the man who won it for LAB at GE2017 that he plans to resign as an MP on September 3rd. Jared O’Mara was the person who took this off the ex-LD leader and Deputy PM, Nick Clegg and the LDs, flush from their Brecon success would dearly love to win it back.

Now there are two big question marks over whether this will take place. A general election could be called in early September which would take away the need to elect a replacement MP. Secondly we don’t know how much we can rely on O’Mara’s statement about standing down. This is what he said last month:

 “Let everyone be assured I will be tendering my resignation via the official parliamentary procedure as soon as term restarts.

“I reiterate my apology to my constituents, the people of Sheffield and the people of the UK as whole.”

Mr O’Mara had said he planned to take time out from his official duties to deal with “mental health and personal issues”.

Whatever the party machines of the LAB and the LDs have got to assume that it is happening hence the weekend of campaign activity.

Against the background of the Brexit deadline and the resurgence of the LDs the  attacks by LAB against Jo Swinson might just help their efforts to win over Tory tactical voters.

The LDs are currently 1/14.

Mike Smithson


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Small minds and Brexit. Jeremy Corbyn’s latest gambit

Thursday, August 15th, 2019

His letter’s a strategic mistake

The real fight starts here. Jeremy Corbyn has written to other opposition party leaders suggesting that if he calls a vote of no confidence in the government, he stands ready to lead a temporary government to obtain an extension to the Article 50 notice and then call a general election.

Perplexingly, this ecumenical offer has met with a cool reception. The Lib Dems have given him the thumbs down on the ground that he would lack the necessary support. The Greens are willing to vote for him but have asked him whether he would support someone else if he failed to gather the necessary support. The remnants of Change UK, who still comprise 5 MPs, have described this as a stunt (given they weren’t copied in on the letter, you can understand why they were miffed).

Jeremy Corbyn stakes his claim to lead such a government on the basis that he leads the second largest party in Parliament. It is his only claim to that role.  

He has shown all the leadership on Brexit of a damp dishcloth. He has dismayed his party with his reluctance to entertain the idea of revisiting the referendum result. The Labour leadership’s policy contortions have led them to the position that they would renegotiate the withdrawal agreement and put that to a referendum, while reserving the right to support or oppose it. The EU might see a negotiation where you are maintaining the right to oppose it in a referendum as bad faith, but that is evidently a secondary consideration to the perceived need to triangulate on Brexit.

He has already lost control of his Parliamentary party, especially on Brexit.  Tom Watson is already working with the Lib Dems. He no doubt does so with the backing of many of his fellow Labour MPs.

He is catastrophically unpopular with the public. If Boris Johnson wanted a poster child for the opponents of Brexit, Jeremy Corbyn would be that man.  Leavers are prepared to countenance the break-up of the union, the destruction of the Conservative party and the slaughter of the first-born in order to secure Brexit. The one thing they are not prepared to countenance is Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister. He would be delighted to go into a general election after such a temporary coalition. His opponents would be shackling themselves to a corpse.

So even the most ardent Corbynite is going to struggle to keep a straight face when arguing that the only conceivable leader of a government to extend the Article 50 notice is Jeremy Corbyn.  

The whole debate is in any case misconceived. The small minds are discussing people. Let’s get back to the idea, which is what great minds should be discussing. The idea is to stop a no deal Brexit taking place without a mandate. If all those arguing are serious about stopping a no deal Brexit without mandate, the person to get the top job should be the person most capable of ensuring that.

If that is accepted, the question should then be who that person would be.  The reaction to Jeremy Corbyn’s kite-flying has shown that it is not him.  

Jeremy Corbyn has made a strategic mistake writing his letter now. He must have been aware that he would struggle to put together a rainbow coalition behind him. He has made his gambit too early and as such he has made it too easy for others to move onto alternative candidates and ask Labour figures why they would be unable to support them. If he had written his letter on the return of Parliament, he may have been alternativeless.

So who might act as a suitable placeholder for temporary Prime Minister? The critical point to note is that if it is not going to be Jeremy Corbyn, any candidate who is going to succeed in commanding a majority in the House of Commons is going to have to be someone who is acceptable to him. He is going to have a lot of agency. We can immediately on that basis exclude Jo Swinson (a dangerous political rival) and any leading Labour figure who might eclipse him in the role. You can safely lay her on Betfair at anything like current prices.

The possibilities are therefore unthreatening leaders of minor parties or clapped-out grandees. Jeremy Corbyn has good relations with Caroline Lucas and there would be the collateral advantage that if the Greens did well it would be at least partly at the Lib Dems’ expense. You can back her at 66/1 with Ladbrokes for next Prime Minister (I previously backed her at 100/1).

You can get 200/1 on Liz Saville-Roberts, leader of Plaid Cymru at Westminster. Ladbrokes haven’t yet listed Ian Blackford, leader of the SNP at Westminster, but you might take a punt on either of these if you can at suitable odds – both might represent experienced politicians who seem lacking in danger for those they need to corral. The truly adventurous might consider Lady Sylvia Hermon at 200/1, who doesn’t even have a party. She is not, however, a fan of Jeremy Corbyn and since he is a man to bear grudges, this is one long shot bet I don’t fancy.

More likely, it is going to be a grandee. Jo Swinson suggested Ken Clarke, which is almost certainly the kiss of death for his chances.  I wouldn’t touch him at the current odds of 25/1 (and have laid him on Betfair). It’s hard to imagine Jeremy Corbyn supporting any Conservative.

So look to senior Labour figures.  Margaret Beckett or Ed Miliband (both so far unlisted by Ladbrokes, though you can back Margaret Beckett on Betfair at 55 at the time of writing) are both possibilities. Much will depend on personal affection, I suspect. Insiders are at a definite advantage here.

In truth, such a government remains unlikely. If it is going to happen, it needs Labour support and some flexibility from them. So plan your betting accordingly.

Alastair Meeks




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The betting markets think a no deal Brexit is getting likelier and likelier

Monday, August 12th, 2019


Chart of Betfair prices from Betdata.io

Cummings certainly has the bottle but has his boss?

Mike Smithson