Looking at Brexit after the 2019 general election

18th December 2019

Last week the general election returned the Conservatives with a substantial majority.

Until the exit poll was published there were still hopes, based in optimistic readings of some polls, that there would be a hung parliament.

But that turned out to be wishful thinking.

The period of hung parliaments, from 2010 to 2019 (bar two years), is no more.

Things have changed.


The greatest change is about Brexit.

The time of Remain resistance is over: there is now no viable political (or legal) path to Brexit being blocked.

It is now virtually certain that the United Kingdom will leave the European Union and that, unless something currently unforeseen happens (say, a logistical or administrative problem), that departure will be at the end of next month.

The United Kingdom is now set to leave the European Union by automatic operation of law on 31st January 2020.


This post sets out some observations and thoughts on the wider significance of the general election result on Brexit – the bad and the good – and it then sets out an important warning about the next stage of the Brexit process.


One way, perhaps, of seeing the general election result is as the third manifestation of the “will of the people” on Brexit.

The first “will of the people” was, of course, the referendum result of 2016: that, in principle, the United Kingdom was to leave the European Union.

The second “will of the people” was the 2017 general election result: that the exit from the European Union was to be done by the means of a hung parliament, that is by consensus between the main political parties.

And the consequence of this second “will of the people” was to make it difficult, if not impossible, for a “hard” Brexit without any withdrawal agreement.

The current prime minister was in fact only able to obtain a further general election by accepting that departure had to be with a withdrawal agreement.

The third “will of the people” was last week’s general election result: that the government would now have a comfortable majority for the negotiation of the follow-on trade relationship with the European Union.

The United Kingdom and the European Union would then have the confidence that anything agreed would not be frustrated by parliament.

Seen in this three-stage way, you could say that the “will of the people” was the wisdom of the people (echoing the notion of the wisdom of crowds): (1) providing a mandate, (2) tightening the leash, and then (3) loosening it.


Of course, the three-stage scheme above is an illusion.

It is a neat pattern one can only see with hindsight.

At the time it was far more messy and, of course, general elections are not like referendums and cannot be easily compared.

The current United Kingdom electoral system is not an efficient register of what is the “will of the people”.

For example, looking at numbers, the Conservatives only increased their total vote by only around 300,000 to get their thumping majority; the main shift in terms of absolute votes was the collapse of the Labour vote by 2.6 million, from 12.8 million to 10.2 million.

Some of you will be more interested in clever things like swings, shares and percentages, but I am always interested in the numbers of actual human beings who make the deliberate decision to vote – and on this basis it is difficult to see the 2019 general election as a strong endorsement of anything in particular.

We may no longer have a hung parliament but we still seem to have a hung electorate.


As many will know (and no doubt some have scrolled down already to start typing this as a comment), total voter numbers matter little with the the First Past The Post electoral system.

To a certain extent (but only a limited one) the FPTP system itself affects voting behaviour: some don’t bother voting in safe seats, and in perceived marginal seats some may vote for parties they would not do otherwise.

And, of course, the FPTP system in effect distorts the result, so that whacking majorities can be based on minority votes.

In respect of Brexit, a plausible case can be made that the majority of those who voted were actually in favour of parties either against Brexit or in favour of a further referendum (Labour, Liberal Democrats, Scottish National Party, Green Party, Plaid Cymru, SDLP), and only the minority (Conservative, Democratic Unionist, Brexit Party, and United Kingdom Independence Party voters) were in favour of Brexit.

Plausible, but inconsequential, in a FPTP system.

The reason, however, why these points need to be emphasised is that, although the political game is now over on resisting Brexit before it happens, the ultimate political issue is still not settled.

There is reluctant resignation as to, but certainly not consensus for, the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union; and for Brexit to be based on such resignation rather than consensus does not bode well for Brexit in the longer term.


Another observation is about lies and honesty in political campaigning.

As this blog has averred before, pointing out that politicians lie is not enough if voters do not mind being lied to.

(Yes, it is still important to expose lies as a public good.)

How can this situation change?

There seems two ways: the hard way and the progressive way.

The hard way is there to be some crisis or “crunch” where it becomes of immediate importance to voters that there should be an alignment between what politicians say and reality: that it becomes urgent to voters that politicians tell the truth.

Brexit may well create such a situation, a reckoning, though no sensible person would want this to happen.

Or Brexit may not ever get pushed to such a brink, and that those in favour will still get by with lies to cover every new predicament.

The progressive way is for there to be political (and media) leadership: for those with political (and media) power to make make voters care that they are being lied to.

The current state of the opposition parties in the United Kingdom is not encouraging in this respect.

They sometimes seem to be too busy lying to themselves, and blaming others, to be able to focus on exposing the lies of those who govern us.

The one benefit of the general election result is that it creates an opportunity (though no more than an opportunity) for the opposition parties (at least outside of Scotland) to get their acts together.


A further observation is that Remain – insofar as it can be said to be a cohesive entity – failed when it mattered.

Both in the period immediately before the general election and in the general election campaign itself, politicians in favour of Remain (or at least a further referendum) could have done things differently, and this may have made a difference to Brexit.

There was a possibility of a “government of national unity” (GNU) but that was unacceptable to the (leaders of the) Labour and Liberal Democrat parties.

There was the possibility of electoral pacts.

Of course, such a GNU and/or pact may have just created new problems, and it may have meant that Brexit was only delayed rather than avoided.

But those roads not taken had at least the possibility of a destination other than departure.

And no doubt the lack of a GNU or a pact will be discussed and disputed for decades to come.


Brexit, of course, is yet to begin.

All that has happened to date has been a mere prelude to what will follow departure.

The general election result has changed little as to the actual problems of Brexit: the task is still as massive and complex as before, and Brexit should not be done at speed and with shallowness of thought.

The capability of Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings to win a general election just as they won the referendum does not make their approach to other activities any better or likely to succeed.

And so to the warning I mention above: after departure on 31st January 2020 (or whenever), Article 50 comes to an end.

This means the leisurely, last-minute nature of obtaining extensions will also come to an end.

After departure the key Brexit dates will be as set out in the withdrawal agreement, and these dates cannot be varied quickly or easily.

A decision needs to be made by July 2020 whether to extend the transition period beyond 31 December 2020.

Already the United Kingdom government is displaying the self-limiting bravado that served it so badly in the exit process, and it is now committing itself to no extension (and this will be “enshrined in law”).

This is lapped up by the uncritical press and its readers, but the real problem is that politicians will think they can still get quick fixes at the deadline.

Such extensions are far less possible (perhaps not even possible at all) and shows the usual lack of seriousness.

The transition period should continue as long as it needs to, and should not be artificially curtailed.

Let’s hope we don’t learn this lesson the hard way.


And now to end this post on some positive notes.

The European Union will be more comfortable negotiating with a government with a working majority and this is a good thing for both sides.

The government majority also perhaps lessens the leverage of the “European Research Group” should the prime minister wish to dump on them as he dumped on the Democratic Unionist Party at the end of the last parliament.

The withdrawal agreement being in place will mean that on citizenship issues, and on many other practical matters, there is legal certainty now in place whatever happens at the end of the transition period.

The transition period means that the United Kingdom remains aligned with European Union law and policy for longer, and so may make rejoining or a close association agreement easier in the medium to long term.

And the government’s wish for a speedy trade agreement means that, as with the exit agreement, it will no doubt be on the European Union’s terms, as the United Kingdom has not given itself enough time to formulate any alternative, and this again makes rejoining or a close association agreement easier in the medium to long term.

These may not be great consolations for those committed to Remain.

But the story of the post-Brexit relationship of the United Kingdom and the European Union has not yet begun, and it is not only down to Brexiters to shape what happens next.


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46 thoughts on “Looking at Brexit after the 2019 general election”

  1. I enjoyed this rather longer and more detailed post. Thank you!

    I find myself in complete agreement with what you say and (as a UK resident) have resigned myself to a state of inner emigration, at least for the term of this parliament, perhaps longer, although I feel a bit conflicted about that.

    Looking forward, I’d be interested to read your thoughts on electoral reform at some stage.

    As ever, keep up the good work.

  2. I don’t know why you say there’s no viable legal path to Brexit being blocked, David.

    In the referendum, a majority voted for the only change on offer. But we don’t know how many were primarily giving vent to rage and hostility they feel towards the system as a whole, and the government made no attempt to explore whether less disruptive reforms (such as a major transfer of power from Westminster to local elected authorities, for example) might have satisfied the public’s hunger for change.

    As far as I can see, failing to explore that possibility was clearly negligent and it means that the decision to leave the EU has not been made with the care and attention our constitution requires. As long as it’s been a live issue in the political sphere, it wouldn’t have been appropriate for the courts to hear that argument but I see no reason why it shouldn’t be put to them once the Withdrawal Agreement Bill has passed.

    1. “I don’t know why you say there’s no viable legal path to Brexit being blocked”

      There is no conceivable legal claim or application to a court that can be made between now and 31st January 2020 to block UK’s departure on 31st January 2020.

      That is why.

      1. If you’re just looking at the 31st of January, then that might be true. But that wouldn’t prevent it being overturned in a subsequent court case, if the decision to leave hasn’t been made in accordance with our constitutional requirements (giving us the immediate pain of withdrawal without our actually leaving).

        1. At a certain point, wishing for a legal(isitic) rescue becomes mere fantasy, and I am afraid I regard what you say as fantastical.

          1. Thank you for your replies, David. At a personal level, I don’t actually care if we leave the EU or not, so there’s no wishing involved; my interest is good governance. It’s quite obvious to me – and probably would be to the Supreme Court – that there’s been precious little of that in the whole Brexit process.

            At some point, if we are ever to develop into a mature society, the incoherence of our constitution (and of the law generally) will have to be confronted. This issue offers an opportunity to do so, if anyone takes the trouble to look at it properly. But it’s only one opportunity of several that I can see and, if those who care about remaining in the EU prefer the intoxication of defeat, then so be it.

        2. “If you’re just looking at the 31st of January…”

          Malcolm, what will happen on the 31st of January has an utterly precise legal significance: until that date the ‘Article 50’ notification can be withdrawn and we could, in theory, call the whole thing off (but this is obviously not going to happen); after that date the UK is no longer a member State of the European Union, the Treaties no longer apply (except in as far as it has been agreed to extend certain arrangements for a limited period).
          It’s absolutely black and white I’m afraid, and there is no remotely plausible way of turning back — it would require a disapplication or modification of the Treaties which, even if all 27 other MSs were in agreement (and, frankly, they really aren’t) would be super-complicated to realise, would take ages, and would be politically fraught. Can you, in any case, really imagine the other Member states voting for more of what they’ve seen, the lies, the belligerent hostility and grandstanding, the denial of even what has only just been agreed, over the last four years?

          There’s an idea in the UK, which is widespread but wholly mistaken, that the EU arbitrarily agrees to do this or that (or can do so), but the truth is that there are Treaties which must be respected and processes which cannot be avoided; it is a creature of Law and it is hard to see how the combined requirements and ambitions of 28 different Member States could be managed otherwise. It may be complicated, but it’s anything but unpredictable if you understand what’s going on.

          The only thing I can see delaying the process at all is, as you mention, a legal challenge to ensure that every constitutional angle has been covered —it would be a chaotic disaster for everybody if a valid challenge were to arise later!— but the chances of anything gaining traction are vanishingly small and, in any case, the UK’s constitution is so flimsy that it ultimately amounts to whatever a government with a decent majority says that it does. Hence the reason why the outcome of the election means it’s over.

  3. I fear we may be entering a long period of constant negotiation with the EU. Even if Johnson agrees a “quick and dirty FTA” (in the words of Ivan Rogers), a future government – supported by a population with the benefit of hindsight – could seek to negotiate a closer more beneficial relationship for both sides later on. As shown by Trump, FTAs are not written in stone. There are also the security and defence aspects. Macron’s suggestion of a European Security Council with the UK as a member is promising and even if a Brexiters’ government first seek to ally itself more closely with US position, it would be foolish not to join such a Council which would increase the influence of the UK in the eyes of the US. If all goes well – and after serious bumps on the road but hopefully before terminal damage to our industry, farming and services sector- we may even end up in a new form of relationship with the EU along the lines of the Bruegel partnership which may be a win/win situation for the EU and the UK..
    In part this will turn on the choices of leaders by Labour and Libereal Democrats’ members. A pact between Stammer and Davey would be entirely possible. A distinct liberal option remains in my view important to attract moderate conservatives while a truly socialist one -but more moderate, tolerant and coherent than the version on offer at this GE – will appeal more to some, in particular to the young people of the UK. However both parties would have sufficient common grounds to be able to govern together provided they make the arrangements necessary to win in our FPTP system. Hopefully Labour has learnt that refusal to cooperate is not a vote winner.
    So I refuse to despair…yet.

    1. Speaking as somebody who has spent years working in the EU services sector, those of us who depend on supplying services across the EU are already bleeding out. SMEs are shutting up shop or culling whole lines of activity, and larger players are moving operations overseas and reducing their complements of British staff.

      There’s currently nothing at all for us foreseen in current provisions, no smoke on the horizon, and talk of Canada simply reminds us that CETA contains little more than some warm words and promises to think about doing something one day…

      Even were there more concrete proposals, it’s impossible to see how new conditions remotely consistent with anything the UK has discussed thus far will not leave us, at best, with overheads posing a severe disadvantage against EU competitors.

      All this before considering how to get from here to that hypothetical there — considerations at which the Conservatives have historically total neglect and abject failure. Who is going to survive long enough, tipping their savings into a black hole of uncertainty, to even find out what emerges when our political masters deign to grant us some consideration? Most of us have already been starved progressively of contracts over the last four years as nobody can be sure of being in a legal position to fulfil undertakings.

      1. The position regarding services and the lack of intelligent discussions in the Brexit debate in this respect is utterly disgraceful. Studies by the Centre for European Studies and others estimate that a minimalist FTA would lead to a 60% reduction of our service trade with the EU. Unfortunately access for services is very much linked to freedom of movement, so the proposed immigration system with no special status for EU citizens is a significant obstacle to access and also, unfortunately, in regulated professions, an obstacle to the recognition of qualifications at the EU level. Each country will be free to apply to the UK the same regime of recognition as to any citizen of a third party state. It is likely to mean having to requalify on a country per country basis with a different regime in each of them like in the “good old days”.

        Perhaps service providers should be a bit more like the French and take to the streets? And in their case, it would be entirely justified.

      2. I was a little baffled to read the line, “Brexit, of course, is yet to begin” in David Allen Green’s post, Charlie Aerö.

        As you say, the socio-economic damage of Brexit began within hours of the referendum result and has been steadily increasing, ever since.

        Scientists and academics started receiving messages on the Friday after the poll from colleagues in Europe. Messages telling them that it was unlikely that they would be invited to participate in future trans-national projects of any length.

        I gather some manufacturing businesses in the UK have had their bids for contracts within EU27 turned down, solely because there was a concern that they would not be able to consistently meet delivery times, the whole point of Just In Time.

        Here in Birmingham, back in 1988, the Great and the Good met for a conference at Highbury Hall, the former home of the Chamberlain family.

        The Highbury Conference charted a course for the economy of Birmingham out of the slough of despond of the 1980s.

        We rebalanced our economy away from manufacturing and took advantage of the opportunities presented by membership of the EU to grow our economy.

        It is a work in progress.

        Birmingham with its International Convention Centre, (Inter)National Indoor Arena and (Inter)National Exhibition Centre has become a popular destination for business tourism.

        The Jaguar plant at Castle Bromwich is cutting edge. An example of high valued added manufacturing.

        The end of Freedom of Movement, as we know it today, will hit both staffing for the conference trade and bookings. It will also impact on staffing at the Jag.

        Moreover, one in twenty of those who work in the NHS, nationally, are from EU27.

        That rises to one in ten in the NHS in the West Midlands.

        At the same time, the NHS has an unprecedented level of unfilled jobs.

        Migrant workers in the NHS and elsewhere are not waiting around to learn about what will replace Freedom of Movement and are instead going home.

        The hostile environment towards migrants in evidence since 2016 has, of course, taken its toll.

        Some migrants are business people and employers and have set up enterprises, like the new shops on the declining high streets of Birmingham.

        The demographic timebomb, defused by Freedom of Movement, is ticking once more.

        The bulk of the cars at the Jag are sold into the EU27 and part of the plant’s supply chain is within EU27. Anything less than frictionless trade with no tariffs and quotas puts the plant at risk.

        JLR has already concentrated all Landrover production at a plant in Slovakia. A plant with sufficient capacity to also take the production line from JLR’s Jaguar plant.

        If the Jag closes and the conference trade takes a hit, where next for Birmingham?

        Boris Johnson’s continued cavalier approach to negotiations with the EU provides next to no certainty for businesses, small, medium and large.

        Even the certainty of knowing that whilst the ship on which one is travelling is sinking, it is at least doing so at a steady rate would be better than where we find ourselves at the moment. One might in that situation be able to plan for the future.

        Only 0.4% of businesses registered for VAT in the UK employ 250 or more staff and more than 5 in 6 of those in work are employed in the private sector.

        Perhaps the media will become more interested in the plight of businesses like those you describe, Charlie Aerö, when the patience of one amongst the 0.4% finally snaps, resulting in the end of the domestic manufacture of a product with a household name like, say, Jaguar cars or Mars bars?

        I think we may safely say that the Conservative Party under the leadership of Boris “Fuck business” Johnson is not on the side of the business community, even before Brexit commences in a legal sense.

        1. “I was a little baffled to read the line, “Brexit, of course, is yet to begin”

          As the UK is still a member of the European Union, all I can say is that you are easily baffled

          1. “before Brexit commences in a legal sense.”

            My point stands that the negative impacts of Brexit were being felt right from the outset, despite our still being a member of the EU.

            That for many businesses and the self employed, scientists and academics Brexit is, to all intents and purposes, an event that has already happened, particularly if they have lost their business or employment.

            That the high drama in Parliament, the courts and of rallies has tended to obscure that Project Fear has become Project Reality for a fair few.

            We are not, incidentally, now experiencing a recession, because the technical definition of a recession is two successive quarters of negative (or zero) growth.

            But as Harold Wilson once observed, to the unemployed person, unemployment is 100%. Brexit has been like that for some.

            I appreciate that for a lawyer, it is not deemed appropriate to anticipate changes in the law (and advise clients to take serious action, based on surmise), but that is not how businesses, in particular, approach risk.

            Sometimes they have to make decisions based on the balance of probabilities, of the likelihood of a risk becoming reality, and act accordingly.

            By the way, the witty bon mot of the legal profession bounce off the carapace of my 27 years as a civil servant.

            Given you were once in Government service, I am confident you know how black is the humour of many civil servants.

  4. As usual this is excellent. I have been reaching for a ‘big picture’ analysis akin to your Will of the People points here. Funny how 2017 takes on the light you give it here, only in light of the 2019 result. And how that 2019 result itself betrays a still-hung electorate. Narratives matter though and I think 2019 as loosening the leash is about right.

    Hope your final points on positive notes bear out.

  5. Thank you for this analysis. Clear as ever David. In the fog of social media I have sought sensible rational voices and found yours to be one of the best. I look forward to more of the same as everything Brexit unfolds (or maybe unravels).

  6. An excellent post, measured and perceptive.

    Can it be said too often that despite the mandate to leave, a majority of voters voted to remain? Indeed tactical voting or differential turnout may have exaggerated that majority but I have not yet seen any evidence, as opposed to hypotheses, that this is the case.

    This could open a whole discussion about the nature of democracy and its relationship with voting systems – for example the oft-repeated, but in my view meretricious, argument that the US is a republic not a democracy – but perhaps that is for a time when passions have cooled.

    For now, the mandate is to leave. The duty of remainers is to try to make the leaving as painless and as amicable as possible so that we may, in due course, aspire to the status of a Norway or Iceland, or even Switzerland (no, my passion has not yet cooled).

    1. “The duty of remainers is to try to make the leaving as painless and as amicable as possible …”

      No that is the responsibility of the winning side.

      As Churchill said, In Victory: Magnanimity (and In Defeat: Defiance).

      1. Of course ultimately the outcome of Brexit will be the Conservatives’s responsibility. But the opposition should be very weary of appearing wholly negative. It will look anti-patriotic. The Libdems and Labour – hopefully headed by Ed Davey & Keir Stammer- should work together and with the Conservatives to achieve the best outcome. They should in my view engage with the EU to ask it to request an extension to allow the negotiation of a comprehensive trade agreement. The EU knows it is in it’s long term interests from a geopolitical point of view. A bitter and hostile Britain on the margins of the EU is a real risk for the EU.

        Looking like sore losers and doom mongers is not a good look. The Economist wrote this week that the 3 key attributes of the Conservatives are a ruthless appetite for power, patriotism and jollity. Outrage and dire predictions will lead pro-European nowhere. Making fun of Johnson’s obvious faults, acting like grownups and seeking the best outcome for the country in the face of the inevitability of Brexit will be far preferable and better electoral strategy

        1. “… acting like grownups …”

          I take it you regard yourself amongst that number?

          I make no such claims for myself.

          Let me introduce you to the reality of how Leave won in 2016, according to Dominic Cummings.

          I assume you have heard of him?

          Leave won, according to Cummings, because they played the race card in the shape of immigration and used the NHS as a proxy for the economy.

          Sound familiar?

          Herein lies the rub, you may end Freedom of Movement and accept an understaffed NHS for the feasible future or accept Freedom of Movement and have a reasonable chance of staffing the NHS to complement.

          How do I know this?

          Well, I profess to be something of an expert in labour market matters, who knows about the demographic time bomb, an issue for all employers, and not just the NHS.

          One in twenty nationally who work in the NHS are from EU 27.

          That rises to one in ten here in the West Midlands.

          The NHS has, today, an unprecedented level of unfilled jobs.

          Freedom of Movement, as we know it today, has yet to end, but migrant workers from the rest of EU have been voting with their feet since 2016.

          No doom mongering there, but cold, hard fact.

          The reality of where we are today.

          Johnson has put his incredible plans for the NHS at the heart of his programme.

          The Opposition would be bloody stupid not to focus on how the prospect of Brexit has already damaged the NHS and that a Hard Brexit is accelerating the damage.

          And that before a US/UK trade deal threatens an increase in the the drugs bill of the NHS and a reduction in the qualifications and experience of nurses that we might recruit from there for the NHS. The latter a detail that Labour failed to exploit during the General Election Campaign.

          The NHS will definitely need more money to offset the cost of an increase in its running costs and may well be expected to accept poorer quality nursing staff from the USA than we would, today, recruit from the EU.

          The fast tracking of visa applications for doctors and nurses with job offers may look impressive, if you know nothing about the NHS and recruitment.

          And then there is the prospect of yet another new Government Department with a new computer system to handle immigration applications to a different set of regulations than now.

          I mean that is bound to be up and running ready for D Day, is it not?

          If the Opposition work closely with Johnson then they will become tainted by association, especially whilst he refuses to take a No Deal Brexit off the table.

          I gather Johnson now wants the Opposition to help him address the social care crisis, one aspect of which is staffing.

          How do I know this?

          No Deal Brexit planning by local authorities revealed that employers in social care are heavily reliant on migrant workers. So much so that some businesses would have no option, but to cease providing care services, if they could not recruit from EU.

          Such workers, like many in the NHS, are defined as unskilled by the ill informed.

          4,486,000 people in the UK work in human health and social work activities or 12.5% of the total number in work.

          Human health and social work is the largest single sector of the UK economy, measured by the number of people who work within it.

          Johnson’s Conservatives have, unsurprisingly, lost their party much of the support of the business community that previous party leaders took for granted.

          Johnson increased his party’s vote share at the 2019 General Election by 300,000 or so when compared to the 2017 General Election.

          2,431,990 (or 89.5%) of all the businesses in the UK employ between 0 and 9 staff. One hell of a constituency to have thrown away so casually and one ripe for wooing by a Labour Party led by a woman, who tells it like it is.

          “No one elected me to make them poorer.”

          Correct me, if I am wrong, but it is Johnson and not the EU that is opposed to an extension of the transitional period?

          I have no idea of Ed Davey’s suitability to lead the Liberal Democrats, but Keir Starmer would make an excellent first officer, as Labour deputy leader, but would be dull and uninspiring as a leader.

          Johnson is a bigot. I think the time is long past when we indulged his prejudices and treated them as charming idiosyncrasies?

          This is, still, a democracy and not an elective dictatorship.

          Johnson only won the active support of 28% of the electorate.

          I, therefore, decline the opportunity to hold Johnson’s hand and say I believe in Brexit. That will not make it any better than it would otherwise be.

          The last major European political leader who said, ignore the reality around you, just believe in me, my chums and my clever, but vague wheezes and it will all come out ok, died in a bunker in Berlin on 30th April 1945.

          We will be marking the 75th year since his demise next April.

          The best outcome of Brexit, as Remain said in 2016, is not as good as that which we have now and no amount of wishful thinking and complacent, happy clappy philosophising will change that.

          And what Johnson is clearly in pursuit of is a Hard, if not a No Deal Brexit.

          I note that you like to read The Economist so a quote from Bagehot would appear apposite, “It has been said England invented the phrase, “Her Majesty’s Opposition”, that it was the first government which made a criticism of administration as much a part of the polity as administration itself. This critical opposition is the consequence of cabinet government.”

          Or, put more, simply by Edward Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby, “The duty of an Opposition (is) very simple … to oppose everything, and propose nothing.”

          Derby was Conservative Prime Minister in 1852, as well as between 1858 and 1859 and 1866 and 1868.

          1. Correction …

            The UK wholesale and retail trade (lumped in with repairers of vehicles, Heaven knows why!) employ 4,974,000 workers or 13.9% of the total number in work.

            No prizes for guessing that migrants make a sizeable contribution to the composition of that work force.

  7. Just a small accuracy point. SNP is Scottish National Party (not Scottish Nationalist Party). And a note of thanks for your commentary on Brexit over recent years.

  8. Thank you. It would be hard to gainsay any of this. A couple of comments may be worth adding:

    The perceived strength or weakness of the UK’s (or EU’s) negotiating position matters much less than our media think. The EU cannot do other than defend its essential interests, the integrity of the single market, the political the interests of its 27 members and the rights of its citizens, and will not do so. Given that, its interest is to have the closest possible relations at all levels with UK. Political tensions or changes of tack might get in the way of that, but they haven’t so far, and there is no obvious reason to expect them to.

    The government’s wish for a speedy agreement might cut either way. In the longer term, especially as new Conservative members begin to respond to the real interests and prospects of their constituents, it should indeed make for closer alignment and less friction. But there is no sign so far of any moderating effect. It is, on the face of it, equally possible that the enrages and their backers will push to take advantage of post-election euphoria to burn all boats and commit us irrevocably to the neocon future. That temptation will be increased by Labour’s intention to give the government a free ride in the Commons for the next four months.

  9. David
    Yet another erudite and engaging post: thank you. I am old enough to remember Lord Denning in his pomp as the staunch protector of the private individual rights against governmental bureaucracy. And I have always regarded the British judiciary as the protectors of all our constitutional rights against the absolutist tendencies of the executive. It have, therefore, been heartened in the last 30 years or so, to see the courts becoming increasingly willing to reign in governmental excesses. But, as we have seen with recent Brexit litigation, the courts are not interested in political sovereignty as such but only in the legality of the government’s action. The Government now seems to have unfettered power to change the law in order to neuter judicial oversight of their actions. Though, I do not dismiss the possibly damaging impact of this “Brexit’ election on our economy, security and the cohesion of the UK. And I accept all the points you have made in this post. Nevertheless, I am more concerned about the damage a few ultra-rich capitalists may do to our cherished constitutional protections.

  10. There is actually something curiously liberating about having been crushed so utterly in the General Election. I don’t know who first said “It’s not the despair that kills you, it’s the hope”, but it’s very true. The UK I now live in bears so little resemblance to the country I thought I lived in, and that I loved, that I find myself now emotionally numb to the pain it’s going to put itself through — I have finally attained the ability to think of it as Somebody Else’s Problem.

    Our youngest son leaves home for university next year, and some time after that we will will move house to downsize. I’m thinking perhaps Scotland would be a more civilized destination than remaining in England.

    1. a great saying from the leader of Poland’s struggle for independence in the early 20th century, Józef Piłsudski: “To be defeated and not give up, that is victory. To be victorious and rest on your laurels, that is defeat.”

    2. Mike, thank you for expressing so eloquently how I also feel: “The UK I now live in bears so little resemblance to the country I thought I lived in, and that I loved, that I find myself now emotionally numb to the pain it’s going to put itself through”.
      Unfortunately, I don’t feel numb but I do feel utterly powerless.
      The great British “values” are simply not what I thought they were and that saddens me as much if not more than the reality of being just a lonely xenophobic island beholden to the USA, Russia, China or a combination of all three. Ironically, our only hope might be the EU, if we have retained any semblance of goodwill despite all the anti-Europe trash talking from Brexiteers.
      My third sadness-inducing fact is that ‘Project Fear’ inevitably becomes Project Reality, with the harshest effects of those realities being reserved for the very poorest areas of Britain who misguidedly voted so enthusiastically to leave the EU.
      Guided, as I have been throughout, by the wisdom of DAG, I am resigned to the inevitable. My fight has gone.
      I realise that the antipathy I have always felt towards Brexit is morphing into resentment towards the leaders of the opposition parties who singularly failed to co-ordinate to successfully oppose Brexit and at the same time seemingly enabled this scarily right-wing Government for a minimum of 5 years, but conceivably much longer.
      Unfortunately, unlike you, Scotland is not an option.

      1. May I ask you a question? What if Brexit happens and daily life in the UK goes on much as it did before?

        What if there are no disasters and we go on as we always have?

        How, if at all, would that change your view of Remain?

        Remainders say Brexit supporters own Brexit and he speaks of lies, which we can all assume are those he thinks were told by Vote Leave. What if the fearful predictions of Remain do not come to pass? Would you (or David) then say that Remain were lying? If not, why not?

  11. With regards to the recent election, I am reminded of your regularly repeated observation that after an event many people treat an outcome as if it was always going to turn out the way it has. Those shouting the loudest that Labour under Corbyn was always destined to fail disasterously at the polls, were saying very different things following the 40% vote share they got in 2017. Yes, the 2019 outcome is awful for Labour but, with a different manifesto, a different response to antisemitism in the party, a different Brexit policy and perhaps, a different PM in power it could have been a very different outcome.

  12. Good summary of where we are now. Just wondering if you might be being too optimistic in assuming that we will leave on 31 Jan with the current Withdrawal Agreement. Might we yet crash out with no WA?

    EVERY Non-Tory should refuse to vote for the WA Bill. It must be clear to all that this is a Tory deal, that Brexit is a Tory project – and that all the consequences (good, if any, and bad) that flow from the decision to leave are solely the responsibility of the Tory party.

    If non-Tories refuse to back the Bill on principle, most Tories will need to vote for it. Johnson can ill afford rebels at this stage. And yet…

    The Bill is a bad bill – if you listen to the critics of May’s deal (such as Johnson and most of the ERG) – since not much has changed from May’s deal. That which has changed was the one thing Brexit Ultras wanted least of all (or so they claimed): a border in the Irish Sea.

    So how many of the newly expanded ERG will want to vote for this Bill. Will they still claim it is not proper Brexit? Will they still campaign against the ‘break up’ of the UK?

    Probably – but how much of an outside chance is there that the next crisis comes in a matter of days and from within the Tory party?

    1. “Good summary of where we are now. Just wondering if you might be being too optimistic in assuming that we will leave on 31 Jan with the current Withdrawal Agreement. Might we yet crash out with no WA?”

      A remote possibility

  13. Well said Mike Taylor. I agree. I feel a kind of relief about the result. No more anxious following of votes in the Commons to see if it could be stalled once more. No more hope. From the depths of despair comes liberation. Those who wanted it so very badly were prepared to do anything to get it and now they. Well let them have it. Let them own it. In the words of John Lennon, “A pretty face may last a year or two. But pretty soon they’ll see what you can do.” (How Do You Sleep, from second album Imagine)

  14. Thank you for this thoughtful analysis of where we are at.
    My view is that Remainers now need to find a way of banding together to develop a Eurocentric view of British politics, business, culture. To promote information about EU policies and achievements as well as weaknesses and failures. To keep alive the real contributions the UK has made to the EU over the years of our membership. We will win in the medium to long term and the strategy to achieve that starts now.

    1. “We will win in the medium to long term and the strategy to achieve that starts now.”
      It will take far longer than the rest of my working life, and probably longer than remains for me to live. I’m leaving.

  15. Always greatly appreciate your words David. We are in a strange situation where, as has always been the case, we are all in the same boat anyway. The win and the loss are purely by the by. If things go well they will surely turn out well for as many remainers as brexiters and vice versa. Its hard to see this project being a resounding success. I suspect we are moving towards a situation where enough wins are battled to contradict the claims of Project Fear. The chief thing now seems to be to make the remainers pay for ‘what they have done’. I’m in Denmark. I spent last year in France. Psychologically I am in Brexit. I hope one day to leave.

  16. A point of hope overheard in a shop earlier on the question of clock time – “Thank goodness that from the end of next month, we won’t have to bother with French time anymore”!

  17. As a Leaver I get a bit sick of being told there isn’t an electoral mandate for Leaving. We had a referendum. We won. We were told that this country is a representative democracy so the referendum doesn’t really count. We won the 2017 election, got done over by a Parliament that didn’t live up to its promises, and now have overwhelmingly won a parliamentary vote to be told that what counts is total votes. And just to make a point, you cannot classify Labour votes as 100% ‘Remain’ as strictly speaking they were offering a referendum with a choice of Leaving, so that is not a clear ‘Remain’ position. At some point, winning every election and referendum must surely count?

    Various people say that we won’t ‘get Brexit done’ by the end of January, instead Brexit will go on for years. I disagree. We will leave at the end of January. What comes next, in terms of negotiations with other nations, is Business As Usual. Negotiating relationships with other nations is what independent nations do all the time. What the EU period has revealed is that we completely abandoned the concept of a UK interest and became completely subordinate to the EU on the basis that as a major part of the EU we would get a share of the benefits of an improved EU and hence didn’t need to push our own factional interest. The majority of voters disagreed. We may be wrong, but that is our view.

    As for those of you talking about leaving because you lost, well good luck in your new homes. If your residence here is contingent on you having your views implemented and you are not prepared to stay if others win elections then you won’t be missed.

    1. Dear Dipper – the first 4 sentences of your post (the rest is mere opinions) highlight precisely what is wrong with ‘politics’ and your understanding of it; or lack of understanding. Aside from the fact that the referendum was anything but democracy in action, what we should address is your notion of “We won”. That is precisely the issue – politics is about winning, and when one side has won it can gloat, celebrate and do as it pleases; thanks to what Lord Hailsham (hardly a leftist as he served in Thatcher’s government) called an “elective dictatorship”, because of the sovereignty of parliament heavily supported by a 3 line whip (basically, an MP representing a constituency falls in line with the his / her party in power rather than follow his / her constituents). This “winner takes all” mentality is of course mostly due to the FPTP voting system almost unique to Britain. It is what it is I guess, but then you use words you neither explain nor define: “representative democracy”. British democracy, or what passes for such, is anything but representative – 16 + year olds excluded, EU nationals, those most affected, denied the right to vote (I know, I know, how dare I mention this!!), an unwritten constitution not worth the paper it is not written on, archaic and anachronistic parliamentary practices open to abuses, etc. etc. That said, I have no issue if that is what you wish, but do not call it a “representative democracy”. It is not. As an aside, if it took 40 odd years for Leavers to succeed, why deny Remainers the next 40 years to undo it? To put it more graphically, how would you like it if 17.4 million people voted for Britain to become atheist and ditch all religions, or enshrine torture as a means to extract confessions? (Tolerance, is what makes for a “representative democracy”). Would you fall into line and conform? It may sound far-fetched, but the only constitutional barrier to abuses in Britain rests on constitutional ‘norms’ (easily broken) and the belief amongst constitutional experts (Dicey in particular) that Parliament would not pass immoral laws. But can we be so sure? Is the ID voter proposal moral? Welfare reforms? Homelessness? Where does one stop. The saving grace, however, is that it is now up to the party that created it all to rectify it!

      1. @ Patrice Fabien – It is obvious to me that those who believe strongly that the UK should be in the EU will never accept any vote to Leave in any form. Your comparisons with the UK becoming atheist or enshrining torture are not valid. The question of whether the UK should be in the EU or not is a binary one. We cannot have an arrangement where I am not in the EU but my Remainer neighbour is in the EU. Your latter points are reasonable, but having nothing to do with leaving the EU. And Taking Back Control means exactly what you say at the end – that these issues are down to the government to sort.

        On the FPTP system, I cannot do better than recommend the interview with David Starkey carried by The Sun (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s7Yzy6Rqrmc). He is a provocative showman so be warned. In business, when you have a problem that needs solving you find the person who needs it solving most and put them in charge. If you hear lots of ‘well I’m not responsible for that’ and ‘we wanted to solve it but others wouldn’t let us’ then you know you have a dysfunctional organisation. PR gives you compromises and no-one taking responsibility. FPTP puts someone in charge. Boris will have to deliver on his promises, or in five years time he will be history.

  18. “the main shift in terms of absolute votes was the collapse of the Labour vote by 2.6 million, from 12.8 million to 10.2 million…
    “… I am always interested in the numbers of actual human beings who make the deliberate decision to vote”

    I can see why one might be persuaded to regard this as “extraordinary”, but it’s important not to be so swept along by the selective interpretations of those with their own story to sell as to lose sight of the broader picture. We are comparing this freakish election and measuring its losses against a level of performance by Labour in 2017 which happens only once in 20 or 30 years — 1997, 1966, 1951.

    In reality, *more* votes were lost between 1997 and 2001 with New Labour in its full pomp than between 2017 and 2019!

    And those (such as Alistair Campbell already on the election night itself) who aim to convince us rather that _2017_ was the freak result, must then make comparisons with a more ordinary reality, and thus account for the fact that more people still voted Labour in defeat in 2019 than in 2015, 2010, and 2005 (not to mention 1983 & 1987):
    • 1.7 million more voted Labour in 2019 than in 2010;
    • 716,640 more voted Labour than in 2005, when Blair carried off a similar majority to that of Johnson (which is now being described as a landslide).

    If you’re ” interested in the numbers of actual human beings who make the deliberate decision to vote” then the nearest recent parallel to 2019 for Labour is actually 2001, when Labour polled less than 1/2 million more than this month.

    None of this can change or cushion the fact that Labour lost many seats and the Tories won a solid, *dangerous*, majority at an absolutely critical moment. But selective analyses with a pre-determined narrative which exclude ‘inconvenient’ information will reveal little or nothing about what has happened and cannot hope to offer useful indications for the future.

    Labour’s crisis of the moment has certainly been exacerbated by both inept decisions and freakish circumstances. But there are grave underlying problems which have been decades in the making, and a quick change of leadership or a return to some formula of past “successes” will not resolve anything; otherwise Scotland would still have been voting Labour in 2015 having rejected independence, instead of returning just one single Labour MP in place of 56 in 1997.

  19. I would first like to thank Mr. DAG for a most cogent and lucid analysis. Not only this above but throughout the entirety of this Brexit tragedy. It has been most instructive for me to learn so much about the workings of the UK politics and constitution.

    Secondly I want to praise all those who chose to protest against this reckless self-damage called Brexit by attending marches, writing petitions etc. It shows true valor and will forever be written down in history as an act of bravery in defiance of populist momentum.

    So how did we land in this seemingly crushing Brexit victory despite Remainers showing 52-54% in polling? I see three perfect storms in conjunction.

    1) The so-called Leader of the Opposition whose anagram is Coremy Jerbyn. On day 1 after the referendum, he called for the immediate invokation of article 50. For 2.5 years after, he continued to press onward with Brexit, except with some workers’ rights preserved. Any attempt by pro-Remain parties to organize was quashed. He did not attend any of the marches and was absurdly lenient against the Labour MPs who voted with the Brexiter MPs. A defining moment was during the Letwin indicative votes, where the option of a 2nd referendum gathered 280 votes for, 292 votes against. Some 10 Conservative MPs defied their own whips to support a 2nd ref. 27 (!) Labour MPs voted against, with 13 more abstaining. Remainers had more friends in Conservative rebels (who had much more to lose) than in Labour leavers. All they had to do was abstain. It could have been turned on that very day, but alas.

    When Boris Johnson was anointed PM and initiated parliamentary havoc, a government of national unity was a justified option. The primary obstacle was again the ‘LOTO’. By refusing to give way to a senior MP about to retire and demanding that he alone could be the temporary PM, the whole idea fell.

    At the time of Labour policy being a 2nd ref against their own new deal, it was simply too late.

    Many concrete chances were presented to the Remain side. At every stage, the ‘LOTO’ impeded its progress.

    Despite this, a more recent event drained the Remain movement of nearly all momentum. The ‘new’ EU deal.

    2) During Boris Johnson’s first day as PM he talked about securing a great new deal with the EU or simply leaving with no deal. This strategy was kept going until two weeks before 31 Oct.

    At this point I guess BJ realized he would lose his 21 Tory MPs to a 2nd ref if he did not present a deal. So he folded all the way.

    In return for folding, the Irish PM gave BJ a fig leaf triumph by officially removing the so-called backstop and instead creating a frontstop by creating a border in the Irish sea. Something a British PM could never do as it practically gave away Northern Ireland into EU customs territory.

    What Ireland and EU in effect did that day was give BJ their blessing as opposed to giving the Remainers a new chance. This allowed British journalists to hail BJ as a master negotiator, causing the EU to fold at the last minute. It was of course 95% the same as Theresa May’s deal but that was conveniently ignored by the Tory spin machine.

    The 21 Tory MPs (barring 3) yielded back to BJs deal and the parliamentary arithmetic was razor-sharp once again. The presence of 20-30 Labour MPs with a leave preference caused severe problems for the Remain side, far outnumbering even though the 10 DUP MPs were outraged and would switch sides to the Remainers in the votes that followed.

    By a miracle saving grace, the Letwin amendment threw a spanner in the works but it was a mere delay.

    Had I been in charge of EU negotiations at the time in a parallel universe, I would have given Remainers a chance by not allowing the backstop to be taken out. BJ would not have had the parliamentary votes to bring back the identical May deal.

    That Thursday was the day Remain lost a significant chunk of the momentum.

    The way forward to those who seek to be members in the EU can only be to keep this flame of Churchillian fight up for these years that are to come. Protest. Write petitions. Write to MPs. Demand the closest possible alignment to show that the future is at the table within the EU, not sulking outside as rule-takers. Demand the opposition parties to organize into one as much as possible and introduce PR like most other European states. (I happen to know France has FPTP in its National Assembly elections, but with the explicit requirement of 50%+1, allowing for a 2nd vote to determine the winner). If you never give in, you will retake your rightful place at the forefront our common European future, as British as well as Europeans.

    I am writing this from Sweden. As of now, I am missing you already. As for the future, I hold great hope that you will return.

    1. Thank you Erik. It’s good to know we still have friends in Europe inspite of Leavers determination to alienate the whole of EU.

    2. Thank you Erik. Continuing to fight for membership will happen particularly as the Johnson government looks so bleak now the Queen’s Speech has already dropped previous ‘commitments’.

  20. Dear David – many thanks. Very informative … and rational, as usual. I have one question, though: am I right in saying that the Scottish Parliament, when enacting legislation, must adhere to EU law (I am referring here to the Scotland Act that legislated for devolution)? If I am correct, I assume it would only apply to devolved matters (but still). Does it not follow, therefore, that England and Wales may / will ‘drift’ away from EU legislation and its institutions, whereas Scotland may / will not, widening the gap between two already existing legal regimes? More crucially, how will the UK government handle this legal drifting apart which, on the face of it, is perfectly legitimate and ‘legal’?

  21. I think you could make a case for the 2015 election being a fourth manifestation of the “will of the people” in relation to the UK’s membership of the EU, given that the Conservatives won a majority on a manifesto that included a promise to hold “a straight in-out referendum on our membership of the European Union by the end of 2017”, while UKIP attracted 3.8 million votes (more than the Lib Dems and SNP combined).

    I am a staunch Remainer – not least, in my view we are clearly better off dealing with the US, Russia, China, etc, as part of a large European club, however imperfect, than as an island off the coast of France – but the arguments about that are over for a generation. We are leaving. (I think we may have forgotten why we joined the EU in the first place after our economic problems in the 1960s, and we have fallen back into pre-Suez thinking that we are a world power with commonwealth friends queueing up to help us out.)

    The issue left in play now is the terms of any agreement that our government can reach with the EU before the end of 2020, which will no doubt be close to the EU’s preferred terms as there is no time for anything else. (Won’t that be a “mixed” agreement requiring ratification from all members states, regional parliaments, etc? For comparison, CETA was agreed in 2014, and then signed in 2016, but has not yet come fully into effect because it has not been fully ratified.) Whatever the deal, it will be painted as a “good deal” by the government, even if it is not fully in effect five years later.

  22. Replying to Patrice Fabien replying to Dipper. Patrice, I couldn’t agree more. Dipper, won what? An argument? An item? A way of life? In what ways will leaving the EU benefit your personal daily life? Winning – presumably you campaigned, delivered leaflets, made phone calls etc to achieve your goal of winning?

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