On the referendum #25: a letter to Tory MPs & donors on the Brexit shambles

[NB. As has become usual, whenever I write something critical about an aspect of Brexit, Remain-supporting media like the FT/Economist/Guardian etc portray this dishonestly as a general statement about Brexit. So for example, below I say that the Government ‘irretrievably botched’ the process of preparing to be a ‘third country’ under EU law in line with official policy. This has been widely quoted as ‘Brexit is irretrievably botched’. This is not at all my view as I have said many times. The referendum was explicitly presented to the country by Parliament as a ‘choice for a generation’. Whether Brexit is a success will not be determined by the ‘deal’. The deal is now sure to be much worse than it could have been. This means we will start off outside the EU in a state worse than we might have done. But whether we make the most of things over a 10/20/30 year timescale is a completely different question and unknowable to anybody. Ignore the fanatics on both sides who are ‘sure’, from Chris Giles to Bill Cash.]

Dear Tory MPs and donors

I’ve avoided writing about the substance of Brexit and the negotiations since the anniversary last year but a few of you have been in touch recently asking ‘what do you think?’ so…

Vote Leave said during the referendum that:

1) promising to use the Article 50 process would be stupid and the UK should maintain the possibility of making real preparations to leave while NOT triggering Article 50 and

2) triggering Article 50 quickly without discussions with our EU friends and without a plan ‘would be like putting a gun in your mouth and pulling the trigger’. 

Following this advice would have maintained the number of positive branching histories of the future, including a friendly departure under Article 50.

The Government immediately accepted bogus legal advice and triggered Article 50 quickly without discussions with our EU friends and without a plan. This immediately closed many positive branching histories and created major problems. The joy in Brussels was palpable. Hammond and DD responded to this joy with empty sabre rattling which Brussels is now enjoying shoving down their throats.  

The government’s nominal policy, which it put in its manifesto and has repeated many times, is to leave the Single Market and Customs Union and the jurisdiction of the ECJ.

This requires preparing to be a ‘third country’ for the purposes of  EU law. It requires building all the infrastructure and facilities that are normal around the world to manage trade.

This process should have started BEFORE triggering A50 but the government has irretrievably botched this.

Having botched it, it could have partially recovered its blunder by starting to do it afterwards.

No such action has been taken.

Downing Street, the Treasury, the Cabinet Office and the Cabinet have made no such preparations and there is no intention of starting.

The Cabinet has never asked for and never been given a briefing from responsible officials on these preparations. Some of them understand this and are happy (e.g Hammond). Most of them don’t understand this and/or prefer not to think about it. It will be trashed in the history books as the pre-1914 Cabinet has been for its failure to discuss what its military alliance with France actually meant until after it was too late.

The few ministers who try to make preparations are often told ‘it’s illegal’ and are blocked by their own Departments, the Cabinet Office and Treasury. The standard officials device of ‘legal advice’ is routinely deployed to whip cowed ministers and spads into line. But given officials now know the May/Hammond plan is surrender, it’s hardly surprising they are not preparing for a Potemkin policy. 

The Treasury argues, with a logic that is both contemptible and reasonable in the comical circumstances, that given the actual outcome of the negotiations will be abject surrender, it is pointless wasting more money to prepare for a policy that has no future and therefore even the Potemkin preparations now underway should be abandoned (NB. the Chancellor has earmarked half of the money for a ‘no deal’ for the fiscal year after we leave the EU).

Instead, Whitehall’s real preparations are for the continuation of EU law and the jurisdiction of the ECJ. The expectation is that MPs will end up accepting the terrible agreement as voting it down would be to invite chaos.

In short, the state has made no preparations to leave and plans to make no preparations to leave even after leaving.

Further, the Government promised in the December agreement to do a number of things that are logically, legally and practically incompatible including leaving the Single Market and Customs Union, avoiding ‘friction’ and changing nothing around the Irish border (as defined by the EU), and having no border in the Irish Sea.

The Government has also aided and abetted bullshit invented by Irish nationalists and Remain campaigners that the Belfast Agreement prevents reasonable customs checks on trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Read the agreement. It does no such thing. This has fatally undermined the UK’s negotiating position and has led to the false choice of not really leaving the EU (‘the Government’s backstop’) or undermining the UK’s constitutional integrity (‘the EU’s backstop’). Barwell promised ministers in December that the text did not mean what it plainly did mean. Now he argues ‘you agreed all this in December’. Whenever you think ‘it can’t be this bad’, the internal processes are always much worse than you think.

Parliament and its Select Committees have contributed to delusions. They have made almost no serious investigation of what preparations to be a third country under EU law should be and what steps are being taken to achieve it.

A small faction of pro-Brexit MPs (which also nearly destroyed Vote Leave so they could babble about ‘Global Britain’ in TV debates) could have done one useful thing — forced the government to prepare for their official policy. Instead this faction has instead spent its time trying to persuade people that all talk of ‘preparations’ is a conspiracy of Brussels and Heywood. They were an asset to Remain in the referendum and they’ve helped sink a viable policy since. A party that treats this faction (or Dominic Grieve) as a serious authority on the law deserves everything it gets. (I don’t mean ‘the ERG’ — I mean a subset of the ERG.)

All this contributes to current delusional arguments over supposed ‘models’ (hybrid/max fac etc) that even on their own terms cannot solve the problem of multiple incompatible promises. ‘Compromise proposals’ such as that from Boles which assume the existence of ‘third country’ planning are just more delusions. It doesn’t matter which version of delusion your gangs finally agree on if none of them has a basis in reality and so long as May/Hammond continue they will have no basis in reality.

You can dance around the fundamental issues all you want but in the end ‘reality cannot be fooled’.

The Government effectively has no credible policy and the whole world knows it. By not taking the basic steps any sane Government should have taken from 24 June 2016, including providing itself with world class legal advice, it’s ‘strategy’ has imploded. It now thinks its survival requires surrender, it thinks that admitting this risks its survival, it thinks that the MPs can be bullshitted by clever drafting from officials, and that once Leave MPs and donors — you guys — are ordering your champagne in the autumn for your parties on 30 March 2019 you will balk at bringing down the Government when you finally have to face that you’ve been conned. Eurosceptics are full of shit and threats they don’t deliver, they say in No10, and on this at least they have a point.

This set of problems cannot be solved by swapping ‘useless X’ for ‘competent Y’ or ‘better spin’.

This set of problems cannot be solved by listening to charlatans such as the overwhelming majority of economists and ‘trade experts’ who brand themselves pro-Brexit, live in parallel universes, and spin fantasies to you.

This set of problems derives partly from the fact that the wiring of power in Downing Street is systemically dysfunctional and, worse, those with real institutional power (Cabinet Office/HMT officials etc) have as their top priority the maintenance of this broken system and keeping Britain as closely tied to the EU as possible. There is effectively zero prospect of May’s team, totally underwater, solving these problems not least because they cannot see them — indeed, their only strategy is to ‘trust officials to be honest’, which is like trusting Bernie Madoff with your finances. Brexit cannot be done with the traditional Westminster/Whitehall system as Vote Leave  warned repeatedly before 23 June 2016.

Further, lots of what Corbyn says is more popular than what Tory think tanks say and you believe (e.g nationalising the trains and water companies that have been run by corporate looters who Hammond says ‘we must defend’). You are only at 40% in the polls because a set of UKIP voters has decided to back you until they see how Brexit turns out. You only survived the most useless campaign in modern history because Vote Leave killed UKIP. You’re now acting like you want someone to create a serious version of it.

Ask yourselves: what happens when the country sees you’ve simultaneously a) ‘handed over tens of billions for fuck all’ as they’ll say in focus groups (which the UK had no liability to pay), b) failed to do anything about unskilled immigration, c) persecuted the high skilled immigrants, such as scientists, who the public wants you to be MORE welcoming to, and d) failed to deliver on the nation’s Number One priority — funding for the NHS which is about to have a very high profile anniversary? And what happens if May staggers to 30 March 2019 and, as Barwell is floating with some of you, they then dig in to fight the 2022 campaign?

If you think that babble about ‘the complexity of the Irish border / the Union / peace’ will get you all off the hook, you must be listening to the same people who ran the 2017 campaign. It won’t. The public, when they tune back in at some point, will consider any argument based on Ireland as such obvious bullshit you must be lying. Given they already think you lie about everything, it won’t be a stretch.

Yes there are things you can do to mitigate the train wreck. For example, it requires using the period summer 2019 to autumn 2021 to change the political landscape, which is incompatible with the continuation of the May/Hammond brand of stagnation punctuated by rubbish crisis management. If you go into the 2022 campaign after five years of this and the contest is Tory promises versus Corbyn promises, you will be maximising the odds of Corbyn as PM. Since 1945, only once has a party trying to win a third term increased its number of seats. Not Thatcher. Not Blair. 1959 — after swapping Eden for Macmillan and with over ~6% growth the year before the vote. You will be starting without a majority (unlike others fighting for a third term). You won’t have half that growth — you will need something else. Shuffling some people is necessary but extremely far from sufficient. 

Of course it could have worked out differently but that is now an argument over branching histories for the history books. Yes it’s true that May, Hammond, Heywood and Robbins are Remain and have screwed it up but you’re deluded if you think you’ll be able to blame the debacle just on them. Whitehall is better at the blame game than you are, officials are completely dominant in this government, ministers have chosen to put Heywood/Robbins in charge, and YOU will get most of the blame from the public.

The sooner you internalise these facts and face reality, the better for the country and you.

Every day that you refuse to face reality increases the probability not only of a terrible deal but also of Seumas Milne shortly casting his curious and sceptical eyes over your assets and tax affairs.

It also increases the probability that others will conclude your party is incapable of coping with this situation and, unless it changes fast, drastic action will be needed including the creation of new forces to reflect public contempt for both the main parties and desire for a political force that reflects public priorities.

If revolution there is to be, better to undertake it than undergo it…

Best wishes

Former campaign director of Vote Leave

Ps. This explains part of what needs to be done and as you will see it will not be done by a normal UK party operating with the existing Whitehall system –‘a change of perspective is worth 80 IQ points’ and ‘how to capture the heavens’.

PPS. I should also add there are many officials who wanted to deliver government policy and MPs have let them down appallingly too. The less I say about that the better for them.

46 thoughts on “On the referendum #25: a letter to Tory MPs & donors on the Brexit shambles

  1. Spot on.

    A party who can only ever sell themselves on (i) economic competence and (ii) that the state does not know best. What do we have? Utter failure to plan for no-deal – both rational contingency planning and at the same time negotiation leverage improving. Huge increase in nanny state policies, i.e. trying to claim when the conservative government interferes in everything down to the composition of cereal that is ok, but when Labour propose to micromanage it is a disaster.

    Any legal advice should have three key parts
    1. conservative or aggressive interpretation of the relevant laws/treaties/etc
    2. who has standing to sue and where
    3. with what remedy

    If the UK made plans for no deal are we really meant to believe there is a court somewhere that would try to injunct that (how would they enforce it, send UN troops into whitehall?), or that financial penalties would be payable to…who, the EU?

    As far as I can work out PPE = piss poor everything

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Cummings was fascinating when writing about his Leave campaign role & the managing of media in a populist age. Someone once said if Cummings had not been so bright he would only have vandalised a bus shelter & not an entire country.
    I disagree – once the Brexit vote was won the huge problem of how to deliver a fraction of what was promised should have begun. Instead Cummings launches a complex set of blame strategies targeted at everyone & anything but the concept of Brexit itself. He offers no guidance for delivery other than varying forms of brinkmanship. In a similar way to a confirmed Marxist who claims every socialist state failed because they compromised, then the ultimate reasoning for failure is that the purest form of Brexit wasn’t attempted which is made without any comprehension for the damage that would inflict. Cummings may be bright, but only in the dark arts of mass persuasion & that skill is no longer required by the UK. We have hopefully learnt our lesson.

    Liked by 1 person

    • 1/ I’m not bright and anybody who thinks I am doesn’t know any bright people.
      2/ It isn’t a question of ‘purity’. Politics is inherently impure.
      3/ It’s a question of basic competence — it’s perfectly reasonable to be pro-Remain but it’s unreasonable to say that cos May/Hammond have screwed it up it inevitably has to be screwed up.

      Liked by 3 people

      • Thanks for your courteous reply. I’m expecting you would form an impenetrable defence of your ideology & actions before any parlimentary select committee you choose to attend.

        Meanwhile I’ll get on with the jobs of;

        – planning how to balance warehouse inventory between UK/NL/ES with tariffs payable every time stock moves to meet customer demand, & a mountain of CoO coding
        – calculating import VAT on every shipment, & reconciling/paying VAT & fees every times goods cross borders – including returns
        – preparing to batch shipments at the border to reduce customs fees (as I do already for CH)
        – setting the UK as a bonded warehouse to complement NL with associated admin costs
        – stopping UK cross-border shipments when B2C customers run out of UK inventory & I source from ES/NL at a loss & vice-versa for EU customers from UK stock
        – getting ready for work permit bureaucracy for my EU staff even though it won’t stop me hiring PL/SK/CZ/HU sales staff, whilst facing barriers to moving staff across Europe
        – preparing to register a business in Europe to handle triangulation transactions when I leverage a 3rd country warehouse
        – facing the legal challenges of direct invoicing as a 3rd country across Europe
        – fixing my broken supply chain (which is already consolidating on mainland Europe) & expecting component delays for inspections

        The only positive is my Brexit-supporting MP has implied I can receive “The Nissan Deal”, although I’m not convinced even Nissan will end up with that.

        Liked by 2 people

        • How’s it going?
          Got all your ducks in a row yet?
          Preparing to embracing the opportunities?

          Maybe you need a more optimistic/energetic freight forwarder? Mine manages to get our materials in from Turkey, Japan and the USA on time (other EU suppliers are available).
          For our export sales to the EU, we allow £55 for comprehensive docs and customs fee and a few days on lead time. Possibly a problem for those selling second hand phones on ebay and Amazon….and those going bust anyway.

          Supposedly the government has built some infrastructure and has recruited 1200 customs officers to help at ports. Provided the civil service has not been negligent the proper preparations will have them well trained and in place in time. We should be more concerned about the switchover from the customs CHIEF system to CDS early next year. Apparently that is another giant civil service cock-up in the pipeline.

          I’m sorry the freedom of movement of cheap labour will impact your business. Perhaps you can find some keen youngsters that have just left our schools? They are surely not all thick and feckless. Perhaps with the incentive of a good wage and some training they will be queuing up?

          I can’t wait for no deal at the end of March. Then the EU can kick Barnier into touch and the real negotiating (in good faith) can begin. The first couple of months might be tricky if the EU decides to punish us, but I don’t see them keeping that up for long.

          In 40 years we’ll all look back and laugh about how silly we were to be scared of our own independence.

          Liked by 1 person

          • It’s going well, thanks.
            My ducks are lined up & export opportunity (globally) is always there for the taking.
            Brexit was already finished by #GE17 & May’s failure to secure her “Mandate for Brexit” electoral majority. Had she secured her 50-100 seat majority helped by a UKIP collapse & a FPTP system before Brexit could be exposed then things may have turned out very differently. However the public saw the opportunist nature of #GE17 for what it was & failed to endorse the madness.

            So here we are, watching as Brexit is delayed & reality pushed back as far as it can towards a WTO no-deal cluster which will never happen.

            I don’t need lessons in how to get a more enthusiastic/optimistic freight forwarder. The mental state of my multiple freight forwarders have never been a concern.
            The fact you have jolly ones is your own personal interest which indicates your lack of awareness on what really matters. If you think being outside the SM/CU/VAT-Area means we just chuck £55 at a freight forwarder & every shipment sails through then you fail to understand most aspects of duty, coding, VAT, regulatory compliance, customs fees & customs processes.

            I don’t use cheap labour. I do rely on international labour based in the UK to sell across Europe.

            Rather than try to understand why Brexit failed I suspect Cummings & others will seek to explain away the shambles as a different branch of history caused by everyone else (elites, EU being unreasonable, establishment forces, Remoaners, Whitehall, pro-EU Parliament, Heywood/Robins, Theresa May etc etc). Populism thrives on blaming others but withers when it comes into contact with reality.

            Yet all they had to do was ask business how international trade worked. We might even have helped with a Brexit plan if anyone had asked. It’s a bit late now.


      • As usual the Brexiteers did not get together with impartial legal advisers before they achieved the OUT vote to have a strategy in place. Shame as lot of trouble could have bee avoided. I am just a simple soul, not a politician


        • You’re missing a very basic fact: the ‘Brexiteers’ were not and are not Her Majesty’s Government. The fault lies with Cameron who did nothing, absolutely nothing, to prepare for a ‘Leave’ Vote. Mrs May is a ‘Remainer’, as is Hammond, and indeed ‘Remainers’ are in the majority in both the Government and in Parliament. The ‘Establishment’ (Civil Service and Media etc) are all Remainiacs and are doing their best to undermine Brexit and make us all wish we had never bothered.

          Liked by 2 people

      • I beg to differ. You are clearly very bright.

        However, your experience managing small, high performance project teams with defined deliverables may warp your frame of reference. (I’m probably doing you a disservice here. I don’t know how much you got into the detail of the DoE administration during your time with Gove.)

        Anyone who worked in the Digital Equipment Corporation of the 80’s and 90’s will remember what happens when you try to scale this sort of thinking without proper governance. Whilst the engineering and innovation was world class, the administration was a Kafkaesque nightmare, where everyone and no-one was in control and desperate clerks threw up a hotch potch of painful rigid procedures just so we could get the phone bills paid on time. which didn’t always happen. The world’s leading network company got the phone cut off.

        And the best part of it was, the (mediocre) management used to pity the poor auditors who didn’t understand the new realities of business.

        It all comes down to execution. Without a robust plan for scaling delivery, it’s all just a beautiful dream. Or nightmare. As we have seen.

        I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts on this.


    • Just begging the question – Brexit shouldn’t be done because Brexit is bad.

      Now turn your base assumption around – Brexit will bring huge benefits – and see if you still think Brexit shouldn’t be done?

      This is just the same old tired Remainer schtick. No evidence, no argument, just sophistry that ultimately boils down to a subjective opinoin – it will be a disaster.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Is there a point at which Brexit becomes so bad, whoever’s fault that is, however good it could have been but isn’t, where you think the best course of action would be to call the whole thing off?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’d be grateful if you would clarify exactly what you think the government (whoever that might be) should do by way of making a deal, customs arrangements, tariffs etc

    Liked by 2 people

    • I agree!

      I read a long list there of things that the government had done wrong and expected it to be followed by a checklist of how to proceed. Perhaps this article if just the first of a pair, or series.


  5. A scathingly good post, but short on actual solutions. Possibly because there are very few options now left and because there’s none that would deliver everything Vote Leave advocated.

    Given these few points:

    1) How incompetently the government is handling Brext.
    2) How cabinet can’t even agree on the basics of a plan to leave.
    3) How much time is now left before crunch time (even if allowing for ‘transition’ phases the latest that will be is the next election).
    4) That we are where we are.

    I wonder if Cummings would now be willing to (re?)consider the EEA/EFTA option and advocate it to Tory MPs, who clearly still listen to him, if the introduction to this blog post is anything to go by. If major leave figures start advocating the option we can wrestle it back from being hijacked by remainers, who are currently doing all the running.

    It doesn’t deliver all that vote leave advocated, but it will deliver much of it (even partially on the immigration issue, thanks to Article 112), including the return of huge swathes of sovereignty, taking us out of the CFP, CAP, ECJ jurisdiction, and so on.

    And crucially it means we actually leave the EU. On present course the most likely scenario seems to be that we leave in name but not reality, and end up essentially staying in but on significantly worse terms than at present. The Tory party will deservedly get slaughtered at the next election if that happens – no amount of blame shifting or threats of Corbyn will prevent it. Only actually leaving in a competent fashion will.


  6. I don’t think Brexit is as complicated as people say. It’s legally complicated, yes, with a lot of technical changes to a lot of legislation, but that aspect of it is in progress. Beyond that I’m not so sure.

    People say we need to build infrastructure at ports, but we already inspect some consignments for drugs, weapons and so on. Are we saying that we’re going to charge tariffs, we’re going to do it from day one of Brexit, and it’s going to drive a large increase in smuggling so we need more inspections? All these things seem pretty doubtful. It seems to me we can leave first, start with zero tariffs, and then decide what to do about that at our leisure. There is a good economic argument for not charging tariffs anyway.

    We need to change systems at HMRC, but only if we go for one of the compromise plans. If we have a clean break, EU trade just becomes the same as non-EU trade, so no significant new development is needed.

    Larger companies which trade across the EU will have to change their internal systems, but I’m sure they will be doing this anyway. I don’t know what the Brexit endpoint will be, neither do they, and so they will be preparing for all outcomes.

    Perhaps there is something important that I’ve forgotten, but consider that Lithuania seceded from the Soviet Union well within two years (they declared independence on 11th March 1990, and joined the UN on 17th September 1991). Of course the situations are not directly comparable, but in many ways Lithuania’s situation was worse than ours. As well as the military pressure, they were moving from Communism to a market economy and had to build all their systems from scratch.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, Lithuania left their economic bloc (USSR/COMECON) within two years.

      And their economy shrank by 44%. It took them until about 2004 to reach 1990 levels again.

      The official figures may slightly overstate the scale of the collapse (Černiauskas & Dobrovolskas, 2011), but I don’t think people will be happy if the British economy collapses by a mere one-third….


  7. All the above may well be true but the outcome of EU referendum vote is still indeterminate for the following reasons:
    1. As Dominic argues the UK ending up a ‘vassal state’ is most likely option (due to lack of preparation for ‘no deal’). However this is a not a coherent, sustainable, or stable long-term equilibrium outcome, either politically or economically. Asymmetry in viability of sustainable options (full Leave/re-join EU) heavily favours Leave as eventual outcome.
    2. Given the very high level of institutional/vested interest power of the Remain camp (and lack of it for Leave) Remainers continue to display a remarkable ability to play a strong hand badly (elites are always deluded as to their ability to control outcomes) rather than adapt to pragmatically change. They will continue to make unforced errors e.g. trying to reverse the Leave decision with referendum on the final deal, which makes no practical, or constitutional sense.
    3. Network inter-dependencies mean we cannot predict what will situation will emerge even in the near term. Internet-based peer networks (see Steve Johnson’s Future Perfect) are undermining the legacy parties and mass media. The EU referendum itself was an emergent phenomenon. There is no other explanation for the Corbyn-communist clique’s rise to control the Labour Party other than the increasing influence rise of peer networks (e.g. the rise of 5-Star). These will continue to provide unforeseen shocks to the political system which may well still play out to the advantage of Leave.
    4. The EU is an brittle empire in decline and is now in a permanent state of disequilibrium. The Lisbon Treaty and the Euro were a step to far. Given the euros inherently flawed architecture another, and larger, uncontrollable Euro crisis is just a question of time (given Italian election results). Sooner or later the EU will crack and fragment in a manner akin to the collapse of the Soviet Union. A new Treaty arrangement to replace the EU could well emerge.
    All the above suggests any quasi-Remain restoration of the status quo ante will be short lived, and futile.


  8. That May’s government have handled the process incompetently is inarguable. You’re quite correct.

    The realisation that eludes you is that this was inevitable. It stems from the void between what Vote Leave told people they could have (everything) versus what you really wanted (economically risky hard Brexit). To name but a few

    – Easy free trade deal with the EU because the German car manufacturers would demand it? Not worked out has it?
    – £350m a week for the NHS? A lie – you remember that one, right?
    – Staying in the single market? Position changed day by day to suit whatever argument was being made.

    The list goes on and on.

    If Vote Leave had been honest and campaigned for a hard Brexit, and won on that basis, there would have been no problem delivering it. Truth is, the Leave campaign was fundamentally deceitful, and promised something that could never be delivered.

    Blaming others for not delivering your impossible fantasy is pretty lame. This is as much your f*ck-up as theirs – time to get real Dom.


  9. Nail on the head.

    The sheer uselessness of May boggles the mind. She’s even beat Gordon Brown I think. And to think that this worthless lump was crowned as the saviour by the Tory parliamentarians. Shocking. Just shocking.

    Liked by 3 people

  10. Sound analysis.
    So what’s the alternative?
    Why can’t we trade with the EU using the same systems and processes that we already use to trade with the rest of the World? yeah maybe some of the systems won’t be perfect … but how many existing systems in whitehall are perfect? yet we seem to muddle through

    Liked by 1 person

    • That is exactly what we should do: trade with the EU as we do the Rest of the World. We publish our own schedule of tariffs and apply these to French agricultural products and German cars. If the Europeans want a Free Trade Deal then we are open to one.

      Liked by 1 person

      • We currently trade with the Rest of the World through deals that come with our status as EU member though, so your comment doesn’t make sense. When we leave, we lose those existing trade deals through the EU.


  11. Hmmm. The reading of the Good Friday Agreement must have been done by doing a CTRL-F and looking for the word “customs”. No, it’s not there. But the agreement changes the constitutional position (under the UK’s constitution) of Nothern Ireland and the UK govt is simply not entitled to undo the agreement unilaterally.

    The Irish government has no right to prevent the UK doing what it likes within Britain, no matter how stupid and damaging it is to both the UK and Ireland. Brexit is a good example. But the Good Friday Agreement DOES give the Irish government rights (and obligations) in Northern Ireland and in relation to all-island issues. And the Irish Government does NOT agree to changing the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

    This quandry was warned about in advance. But no-one on the leave side wanted to listen. And so, here we are. They still don’t want to hear the truth.

    Liked by 1 person

    • ‘And the Irish Government does NOT agree to changing the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland’.

      Depends what you mean by ‘changing the border’. There’s already freedom to alter VAT, duty etc. without consulting Ireland. If there’s no infrastructure actually at the border, what rights does Ireland have? Moreover, what redress does Ireland have if the UK simply says it doesn’t consider the GFA to have been breached?


    • I may be missing something but who is talking about changing the between Northern Ireland and Eire? It will stay right where it is and the Uk government could choose not to impose any controls post Brexit.


    • The binding East/West constitutional obligations laid out in the text of the Belfast Agreement are to do with the requirement to recognise the ECHR and to respect the democratic wish of the population of NI to stay in or leave the union. With respect to other issues, it mainly restricts itself to creating the institutions necessary to manage intergovernmental co-operation. Of most importance, with respect to border issues, seems to be its establishment of the British Irish Intergovernmental Conference.

      While it’s true that the text re. the BIIC states that decisions on areas of mutual competence will be made by agreement between both governments, and that all effort must be made to reach agreement, it is simultaneously reaffirms that there is no derogation of sovereignty for either government. Since border control is an key aspect of sovereignty, it follows that it does not limit the ability of either government to impose border controls, if they wish, since that would result in a derogation of sovereignty that is explicitly denied. The examples given for areas of BIIC co-operation all relate to security, and the Irish Government’s special interest in NI affairs is recognised only so far as to ensure there will be frequent and regular meetings of the Conference to discuss matters of mutual interest, not to give the Irish Government a veto on policy in NI.

      Supporting this interpretation is the fact that while the EU’s own position paper on Ireland/NI[1] talks extensively about the Belfast Agreement, and emphasises the importance of avoiding a hard border, at no point does it suggest the agreement itself makes one impossible. Given how closely EU lawyers have presumably studied the agreement and its implications, this suggests they do not believe the agreement itself makes a fully open border a legal necessity. It may, in fact, be a *political* necessity, but that is a different thing.

      Indeed, it is striking how little the agreement in general concerns itself with matters of cross-border trade and economic integration. Principally it deals with matters of security, democratic representation, political institutions, and human rights. There is far more about the promotion of the Irish language than there is about economic integration. I would guess that, somewhat ironically, this omission was because the Irish and British governments believed trade and economic integration was a matter already settled—by their mutual membership of the EU, and neither considered exiting the EU to be a realistic possibility.

      [1] https://ec.europa.eu/commission/sites/beta-political/files/guiding-principles-dialogue-ei-ni_en.pdf


  12. Very good article – very depressing to reflect the reality. But one thing puzzles me. There is no call for action.
    Civil servants don’t have to dominate a government. They will take a lead from strong ministers who know what they want to do, even if it’s the opposite of what the previous government wanted to do.
    What the government lacks is leadership, from a prime minister who is very clear about what they want to do, and can communicate it to MPs civil servants and the public. Someone who will appoint people to key ministries and give them direction and support. Someone who will fire the present civil service negotiating team and replace them with others who will negotiate for us rather than the EU. Someone with a sense of urgency.
    May has totally failed to provide any leadership whatsoever and is leading us to disaster. None of her potential replacements stand out, but surely none of them could do a worse job than she has. Some of them actually want to leave the EU, which would be a start.
    Yet there is no overt call for a leadership challenge. If not now, when?

    Liked by 1 person

  13. What it seems to amount to is:
    (1) it’s all turning into an almighty dog’s Brexit, and
    (2) it’s all the remainers fault.

    I rather thought we’d arrive there before long.

    Now we’ve established the fact that we’ve hit the iceberg, what’s more important? Who was steering or where the lifeboats are situated?


  14. I think you are disingenuous in stating that vote leave said we shouldn’t trigger article 50 early. You may have said it quietly, but you certainly never made a big deal of it to the electorate who were in no small part surprised we didn’t leave the day after the referendum.
    The only thing in this whole sorry ‘don’t blame me’ litany of excuses that is correct is that brexit is undeliverable with the current Westminster set up. What you fail to address is that 90% of the bad government in the UK is domestic in origin and 10% is from the EU. It is Westminster that always needed fixing first, but like a coward you weren’t prepared to fight that battle because you knew you wouldn’t win it. Stop snivelling and making excuses for your fuck-ups, because they are yours as much as they belong to the rest of the halfwits in government.
    Be a man and accept that you are just as responsible for this unholy cluster fuck.

    Liked by 1 person

    • As I understand it from reading Tim Shipman’s book, DC’s view is that reform of Westminster is impossible as long as the UK is in the EU, as civil servants will always use EU rules as an excuse to kill innovation they don’t like. DC anticipated that the Brexit vote was the first step in the revolution, the next would have been an overhaul of Whitehall presumably under a Gove government.


  15. The premise of this article is fundamentally untrue. The government did attempt to discuss proceedings with the EU prior to triggering article 50. The member states and the commission, understandably, refused.


  16. Oddly Richard North who worked with you on the Leave campaign remembers things slightly differently. He is of the opinion that you were offered the opportunity to have a sit down and a think about the post Brexit plan for the UK but you didn’t take it up.

    I am not sure who to believe.


  17. Two separate lines of thought, so I will split them into two posts.

    I don’t know DC but I will make a few observations
    – he gets a lot of criticism for “not sticking around to implement”. My memory is that the general mood was that with a 52/48 result (I will come back to this in the next post), a centrist candidate was desired. Not a reasonable criticism to say that he should have lead it. Ditto on there being no plan. That isn’t even correct. I have read plenty of plans from various people, should those have been developed into more detailed action plans – at some point. However the production of a detailed action plan was a task for the government as they would have implementation responsibility.

    – His wider interests seem to be in how do you structure organisations in order to achieve excellence; also how can you structure organisations for high productivity. Both of those are great questions, particularly given changes in the world. Before we had 10 markets, each with 10 firms, and the top 1-2 in each would do well (10-20 ok firms). We now have 1 global market of 100 companies, the top 3 will take almost all of the rewards (well actually most of the increase in value flows to the customers). The rewards to excellence are higher. If you wanted the UK to be a rich society you would focus on putting in place the structures to allow excellent institutions to prosper. That generates wealth in the UK, if you then want the wider population to benefit you need to focus on how organisations are structured to focus on delivering what people want, not on what the government employees want to do. This example looks at high performing companies, similar logic applies to high performing research, academia, etc. It is worth noting that done well such changes have the potential to create enormous value to society of which almost none will be captured by the person working on it, and the person will be subject to ongoing unpleasantness from those whose positions are threatened. In reply to the claim that this only works in small teams and large organisations must be bureaucratic, I point at the 100bn USD fortune the Koch brothers earned. People can differ in agreeing with their political views, but read their books on how they built their companies, and that they see the key to their fortune as being the ability to have a very large organisation and yet structure it to make sure people at all levels are honest and think and aim at quality, instead of cynically following procedure. If you have the skills to help organisations achieve more there are many places you can work where you will be better paid, and better treated. Going into politics/government when you have alternate choices is a public service. Going into public service when your main skills are working a bureaucracy is in word but not in deed a public service.

    – The entire “the campaign was dishonest” is just petty abuse of power from losers. Are the claimed breaches even: real (channel 4, looking at you)? non-negligible (show me a spending violation that isn’t the equivalent of going 1 minutes past 2 hours of parking, and in the context of the enormous uncounted spending from every part of the establishment pushing remain)? physically possible? (computers twisted peoples mind – someone doesn’t have a scientific background if they bought that one). If you have a petty bully using their position to try and attack you, how should you respond? Not with respect for the bully. So on the charges of arrogance against DC, you should be blunt to bullies.

    Again. I don’t know DC. I have read his website, followed the various stories on the campaign, read the commentary of him here and elsewhere. Having seen many of the things said about him, in the interests of balance it is worth stating that many of those criticisms are illogical and not supported by the facts.


  18. This is absolutely fascinating for someone like me from outside the UK who follows the Brexit story with more than average interest. But it raises some questions.
    1. You write: “The Government immediately accepted bogus legal advice and triggered Article 50 quickly without discussions with our EU friends and without a plan.” I’m interested in that advice and more the argument why it was bogus. Can you tell us? And suppose triggering article wasn’t actually required to get into the negotiations (I am still under the impression the EU did not have a choice to go into real negotiations before the triggering), how do you get the EU to the table if they really want an orderly process instead of a lot of smokey back room dealing? How is the EU going to do that if it has to keep 27 countries in the loop and art of the negotiation process? What would change, really, in terms of issues to discuss?
    2. Just curious as it is a bit off topic. You write: “It will be trashed in the history books as the pre-1914 Cabinet has been for its failure to discuss what its military alliance with France actually meant until after it was too late.” Does that mean you are of the opinion that the UK should have left the Germans in WW1 free to conquer Europe? WW2 too, maybe? In other words: were those alliances a bad thing? And if you don’t think so, is being prepared the thing that decides if you do something or not? And if that is the case, shouldn’t the leave campaigns have prepared a real model for the future instead of claiming things like money for the NHS (which was really dishonest)?
    3. You write: “Ask yourselves: what happens when the country sees you’ve simultaneously a) ‘handed over tens of billions for fuck all’ as they’ll say in focus groups (which the UK had no liability to pay)”. If those payments were the results of obligations the UK went into, shouldn’t it keep those obligations? For instance, many people, (many of them from the UK) worked for the EU and they are entitled to a pension. So, if there is no obligation as you say: should the UK citizens that are entitled then lose their pension? Or should the EU take up the tab that the UK co-signed for? Both are very unjust. Are you so easy with your agreements and obligations? And suppose you take the liabilities for UK citizens that are entitled to EU pensions and turn them into national liabilities, aren’t you just playing hide and seek with the money? That is, suddenly the money isn’t paid to pensions via the EU but directly? Suddenly you claim you do not have to pay the EU, but the only thing that happened is that you have to pay it directly instead of via the EU route? No financial change at all.


  19. Spot on. Those of us who have been watching what May has actually been doing (i.e. nothing) rather than listening to the utterly meaningless “Brexit means Breakfast” sounds waah-waah-waahing from her face-hole will be onboard with this analysis.

    We are being railroaded into a non-Brexit through the simple expedient of May actively sitting on her claws and letting the Sir Humphreys explain that, I’m so sorry, Minister, but nothing can change, I’m afraid that’s simply not how things are done.

    I’d go further though, and suggest that the plan is to drive the Brexit train right off the cliff of a no-deal scenario on the 29th of March, shrieking the whistle in manufactured panic all the way.

    Then we’ll wake up on the 30th to find that “for the good of the nation, for strength and stability”, that we have reluctantly, oh so reluctantly, requested and been granted an emergency probationary re-accession by executive fiat in the dark hours of the night. And it’s only going to cost us another €50 billion or so. Oh, we’ll have to adopt the Euro, of course. So reluctant, but what choice did Parliament leave us?

    A year ago that would have been tin foil hat territory. But by their fruits shall we know them, and Brexit is fast withering on the vine.


  20. The referendum produced two results: [1] a vote to leave and [2] 52%/48% in favour of that decision.
    The narrowness of the vote suggests that: [1] the UK must leave the EU – which is achieved by triggering art 50 and the EU treaties ceasing to apply from March 30th, 2019, [2] an agreement with the EU which, as closely as possible, matches the 52/48 split.
    The immediate solution which matches the referendum outcome is the EFTA/EEA solution. It has been argued that this demands freedom of movement – this is true, but it only FOM for worker who already have a job offer, not for EU citizens in general. It is not too late to go for this option – otherwise can anyone tell me what will happen on March 30th next year? Put simply, will I require a schengen visa to take a weeks holiday in France next Easter?


  21. Who COULD have predicted that the intellectually weakest Conservative Party since the war would not have done what you apparently knew they needed to do (and advised the same), embark on the near-complete dismantling of the civil service and replace it with a crack squad of Apollo-mission level visionaries equal to the task of achieving a good outcome from the disruption? All led by a leader who is the historic equal to Bismarck in strategic acumen?

    The MPs and donors you address must be kicking themselves for not having made that happen.

    A cynic might say that our current position was, to borrow a phrase from the calcified and mediocre world of law, *forseeable*.


  22. gtcwnl

    on 3. the EC employed people of many nations who have accrued pension benefits. Who is liable to pay the benefits, the home country or the EC? Answer they were not on secondment, the EC is their employer. The EC has made some provision for pensions, to the extent that this is insufficient then the EC should liquidate various assets (property, etc). To the extent the EC has put too little money aside against future pension obligations then maybe it turns to the member countries though the legal nature of their obligation would be very unclear. In this case the EC is saying, we will keep all our assets and just give the liability to you. A nonsense. If you read the analysis of the UKs obligations then most of them boil down to “the EU assumed it could keep spending this money forever, so they want the UK to pay it”. My professional work involves a lot of looking at who is legally responsible for different debts and having studied the facts here I very much come down on the “nothing is owed legally, the EU has a problem transitioning to a lower level of spending, maybe offer a gift to ease their transition but only to “buy” a more sensible deal.”.

    On this as with many things the EU position is just bizarre – and the UK press is terrible at calling it out. e.g. The UK “can not” be a member of galileo for security reasons….but the UK should continue to share all of the intel GCHQ gathers with some EU states. The EU can not allow a trade agreement with the UK that does not include free movement….but is showing sudden urgency to sign deals with Japan, Australia, etc which involve trade in goods and services but do not touch free movement. The UK must be subject to EU rules otherwise there will have to be a border in Ireland….except the UK is happy to have no border on its side, the EU is claiming it will force Ireland to put one on the Irish side, and if you go to the border there are already police stops and customs inspections due to different duty on fuel etc (some great photos on twitter of the border posts on the borderless border). As the cliche goes #fakenews


  23. Part 2

    This is the second part of a reply. The first (above) focused on the accuracy of criticism of DC, this one looks at his comments (and some replies) on the process.


    You have to choose between an open model for how we will interact with RoW, and then any EU deal sits on top of that as an enhancement. Or a closed model where your agreement with the EU locks you in to a certain architecture and your ability to deal with RoW is far more limited. 1 is far more consistent with any sensible interpretation of leave. 2 is an odd interpretation and inferior to staying in – you have all the regulatory costs of being a member; no say (consultation rights are worthless); and only some of the benefits of being a member (trade deals the EU strikes constrain you but don’t always benefit you). 2 makes a lot of people angry – all talk of “treason” is emotive but not unfair.

    A thought experiment: imagine if the UK chose an open model for trading with the entire world, and promised that EU standards would be sufficient for products to be sold in the UK, that EU citizens already in the UK would have a simple path to citizenship, that EU citizens could freely study, visit and work here (benefits a separate discussion), that no tariffs or other barriers would be imposed on EU goods and services. In this thought experiment, the EU might still choose to put up barriers to goods and services from the UK, and might reduce the rights of UK citizens who live in Europe. Would the vocal remain people be happy with this scenario? Almost certainly not, they seem to argue that it is not sufficient that we welcome the EU here, but that we must also allow the EU control of laws and our relationship with the RoW as otherwise the EU will shut us out. I find this stupid – apparently it is not enough for us to be open, if the EU would shut us out then the UK is the bad actor.


    There has been much campaigning by parliament to have a right to vote on the final brexit deal. I can understand arguments for and against this position. Again, the interpretation of “meaningful say” is upside down.

    When MPs vote the choices will be
    1. accept the negotiated deal (though I suspect it will still be at a high level and need documenting – normally we vote on legislation not an outline)
    2. reject the deal and…..what? Chaos?

    A vote structured this way is not meaningful. The intense press campaign pushes the idea that the vote should be between
    1. accept
    2. reject and tell the UK to go negotiate a different deal, or some extension, or ask for terms on being let back in
    This isn’t even a sensible vote, as (2) does not describe something under the UKs control. This leaves the UK still in limbo and with the clock ticking down very quickly. Given the pace so far if (2) is the choice in September, then come December would there be another vote – again to accept whatever modified deal is available or to keep talking. That is irresponsible as there are only 3 months to March for implementation. This just positions the UK as without options and presumably taking whatever deal the EU dictates (this vote is portrayed as empowering parliament, in fact it positions them to be utterly powerless).

    A truly meaningful vote would be
    1. accept the deal
    2. here are all of the unilateral actions we are going to take if the deal is rejected, we will continue speaking to the EU to see what can be added but our focus is on a smooth no-deal scenario.
    This is actually a meaningful vote. First, both options are in your control. Second, the deal being offered can be properly analysed as it can be compared to a detailed no-deal scenario (this comparison also shows that you can get many deal benefits without a deal) . It is my view that any MP who is honest in this process, should be pushing for a fully fleshed out no-deal proposal. This is the most important point in my note.


    From a risk management perspective
    1. controlling the infrastructure and trying to agree an overlay deal is far more in your command, if things go wrong this has a much better failure mode. When designing any process you should also design in what will happen if things go wrong.
    2. costs of different types of errors. If the UK controls the architecture and the first version is either legally or via implementation is too open then what harm results? Usually minimal and the problematic areas can then be identified and fixed; if the UK is too restrictive then what harm results – this is far more disruptive to the economy and can have long term costs if short term disruption makes people move jobs/production. Note: the civil service is designed to err on being too closed rather than too open.

    People and companies want to be able to plan. Future uncertainty impacts the present in this way. If I am a business looking to expand it is not clear what import tariffs and paperwork the UK will impose. It is not clear if I will be able to freely have my EU staff work from the UK. If I expand my business should I do that in the UK or in the EU? As an individual should I come study in the UK, or accept a job here, if in one years time the rules may change against me? A no-deal plan allows the UK to provide clarity to everyone in the economy on some baseline. The sooner this baseline is guaranteed the better.

    The discussion of a transition agreement has been silly and helpful.

    Silly because about the worse thing for the economy is to have 2 years of uncertainty about the future legal regime, then to incur all the costs of moving to a transition legal regime and have a further [2] years of uncertainty, and then incur all the switching costs a second time.

    Helpful because there is a consensus that the UK should not close itself up. I believe that 90% of the benefits of transition can be had unilaterally:
    – the UK does not need to make any changes to its customs infrastructure. With no deal the UK has to choose between WTO tariffs against all, or zero against all countries. It is clear we should not raise tariffs against the EU (anybody like trumps tariffs?), so we should drop them against RoW. From security, product safety, duty on alcohol and tobacco, etc – our current systems perform perfectly well. [Everyone was very excited about the secret Treasury analysis, nobody asked the most important question: why did they not model a zero tariff scenario?]
    – people, promise the same current freedoms for EU citizens to work and study here (benefits separate) for a [10] year period. This creates a smooth transition period, and plenty of time for the UK to debate future immigration policy.
    – money, nothing is owed but money can be offered towards certain programs to purchase goodwill. Personally, I would offer to fund individual EU countries / projects directly alongside the EU.
    – services – the UK/FCA has said something incredibly sensible. EU firms will be free to deliver financial services to companies in the UK. This obsession with governments denying and permitting trade is confused. A UK company is not going to deal with someone just because the EU regulates them, see the scandals in malta, cyprus,etc. Any sane company does their own work on their counterparties. The EU is over-regulated and even so it provides only a base line for choosing who to work with.

    A transition deal can keep the UK open to Europe, it can improve the UKs relationship with the rest of the world. Of course what it can’t do it make Europe stay open to the UK. If the EU wants to shut out the UK that is their right and if that upsets you then the one to complain about is the EU not the UK.

    The EU states that financial services are covered by no trade deal in the world and it would be terribly complicated. The UK can prove that untrue with a single line of legislation “UK companies are free to purchase financial services from EU regulated firms, at their own risk”.

    The EU can put up whatever tariffs it wants and create delays at its borders – subject to WTO. If that is what they want then you can not stop them – however, if they are sensible then they will not blockade the UK. [There is a certain irony that the EU is pushing hard to keep trade with Iran open at the same time as saying that they will be forced to shut down trade with the UK unless the UK accepts EU dominion.] If the EU truly chooses to pointlessly disrupt trade with the UK then what does that say about the priorities and beliefs of the EU, and do you want to be a member?

    In short.
    On the timing to trigger Art 50 – I disagree on the tactics/etc but that is in the past.
    The UK did some reasonable analysis at the beginning of this process but has completely dropped the ball since. The UK needs to focus on a no-deal scenario with EU on top, instead the process has shifted to accommodate the EU and see what they then let us do.

    What can be done from here?
    – Call out the nonsense from the other side and don’t be bullied – there is far too much accommodation of nonsensical EU positions because the UK is willing to agree that white is black in order to get the EU to agree to move talks forward. That is a foolish short term move.
    – Focus on a credible no-deal scenario – this is needed as the comparator for parliaments vote; and to protect the country should the deal be unacceptable.
    – Focus on simple solutions. Maxfac is an intellectual toy.
    – Ensure that the legal regime is too open rather than too closed – changes can be made later if needed, but if the regime is too closed it will cause real harm to the economy.
    – Demand the government deliver to parliament a no-deal plan before the vote on accept/reject the deal.


  24. Excellent letter. It is becoming increasingly clear that we cannot rely on the Tory party to get us out of the current mess. The Brexiteers seem paralysed and incapable of challenging Theresa May. Some kind of cross party campaign will be needed – something rather like Vote Leave. Any thoughts on who might lead it?


  25. Brexit has turned out to be a failure for more than many reasons. The whole idea behind Brexit was to safeguard our interests, but the way it has turned out is quite the contrary. We leave the EU, but remain in the Single Market (SM) and Customs Union (CU). Not only do we lose the sovereignty Brexiters perceive as a result of being in the SM & CU, but we also lose our current say in how the SM & CU are run, and we still pay into the EU budget. All the UK ‘gains’ is the inability to influence the rules and laws we have to follow as part of the SM & CU.


  26. Dear Dominic

    I often come back to look at this particular post because it was so prophetic. I appreciate over half a year has passed, but do I understand correctly that you would be voting it through anyway (ala Gove), as we lost the game when we posted a50 and then didn’t prepare? Or is it even worse than you anticipated (ie its permanent nature).

    I myself am struggling to see what is more likely to split the party and create the ‘serious’ version of UKIP you warned us about. I’m not sure the associations will be very forgiving if anything too close to the current deal gets through. The 2019-2022 pivot would certainly have to be substantial to win back any credibility.

    I would be very grateful to hear your views and think it would probably be helpful for our MPs to hear what you think as well, given how you saw it coming long before they did.


    (apologies if double post, not sure if first got through)


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