The Brexit update, with shampoo

We’ll get to the shampoo, but first let’s wade through enough bullshit to get our hair nicely dirty. To wit:

The British government told a Scottish court that it would ask the European Union for a Brexit delay if it can’t reach deal by October 19. 

Why is that bullshit and why do they feel the need to talk to a court it? Because a group of Remain activists filed a lawsuit to require the government to follow the Benn Act, which says the government has to ask for the extension. The Remainers didn’t go to court because the winter nights are long in Scotland. It’s still fall–or Autumn, as they like to say in Britain–and even that far north they have enough daylight left to keep them from going to court for the sake of entertainment. No, they went because Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he’d rather be dead in a ditch than stay in the EU after October 31. And he’s still saying more or less the same thing. (#deadinaditch is trending on Twitter in case you really are bored.)

How can he ask for an extension and still leave on October 31? 

Well, a government statement says, “The government will comply with the Benn Act, which only imposes a very specific narrow duty concerning Parliament’s letter requesting a delay–drafted by an unknown subset of MPs and pro-EU campaigners–and which can be interpreted in different ways.

“But the government is not prevented by the Act from doing other things that cause no delay, including other communications, private and public.

“People will have to wait to see how this is reconciled. The government is making its true position on delay known privately in Europe and this will become public soon.”

What does that means? The government seems to think it has a get-out-of-jail-free card up its sleeve. Or a get-out-of-extension card–one that will let them follow the letter of the Benn Act but avoid the substance of it.

To underline that interpretation, a Brexiteer MP, Steve Baker, said “All this means is that government will obey the law. It does not mean we will extend. It does not mean we will stay in the EU beyond 31 October. We will leave.”

On Twitter, someone who may or may not know anything is speculating that they’re counting on Hungary to veto an extension. Does that make any sense. Your guess is as good as mine. I don’t usually look to Twitter for political punditry, but I was looking at the general wise-acreness at #deadinaditch.

In the meantime, the court’s being asked if Johnson can be jailed if he doesn’t comply with the law. 

Do we know how to have fun over here or what?

Just before all that kicked off, Johnson sent a proposed withdrawal deal to the European Union. We’re going to skip the details of how it was supposed to work, because the EU said it was unworkable, making the details pretty much irrelevant. In diplomatic language, they were “unconvinced” by it. In less diplomatic language, it wasn’t “even remotely workable.”

Every Brexit plan that’s drawn breath seems to have been cursed, which might tell us something about the practicality of leaving the EU. Theresa May–Johnson’s ill-fated predecessor–negotiated an agreement that the EU accepted but that couldn’t find a majority in the House of Commons. The odds of Johnson getting EU agreement to this one are roughly equal to my chances of winning the London marathon, but if he did, it just might get a majority in parliament. 

Emphasis on might

But without EU agreement, there’s no deal to bring to the Commons, so it doesn’t matter which way MPs would vote.

The main focus of any proposal these days is how to avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. Not because that’s the only issue that matters but because it might make the difference between a majority in the Commons and no majority. Everything else, important as it is, is being ignored.

Having said that, the border does matter. Opening it was a key part of ending the Troubles–the violence in Northern Ireland that ended with the Good Friday Agreement. The last watchpost on the Irish border was dismantled in 2006. The border’s been invisible since then, and the two economies have grown into each other and separating them–if it happens–will be painful. 

But an open border depends on the countries on both sides trading under the same regulations, otherwise you get stuff that meets lower standards slipping into the area where higher standards are in force. In other words, you get smuggling. Or your higher standards become meaningless. Or both. To date, no one’s figured out a politically viable way to get around that.

The director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium said the Johnson plan was unworkable and unpalatable and that Johnson hadn’t listened to businesses. And Northern Ireland’s chief constable has said his force wouldn’t staff any form of border security. 

Where the plan has gained support is from the Democartic Unionist Party–the DUP, a small party that first May and now Johnson have courted because they’ve needed their votes.

The plan would have the Northern Ireland Assembly (generally called Stormont, since that’s where it meets) voting on whether to renew the border arrangement every four years. The first problem here is that Stormont hasn’t met since 2017. Like everything else involved in Brexit, that’s a complicated and interesting story, and we’re not going into it. Follow the link if you want to know more.

The next problem is that the Irish government and Sinn Fein have said the proposal would give the DUP veto power over whether to renew the agreement. To make sense of that, you need to know the structure of the Stormont assembly. In a country deeply split between Protestants and Catholics, it seemed to make sense to set up a mechanism that allowed a relatively small number of delegates to say that a bill is sensitive enough to need a two-thirds majority if it’s to pass. In a perfect world, this would keep either side from bulldozing the other.

You probably haven’t noticed this, but this is not a perfect world. For Johnson’s plan, it means that either of the two major parties, the DUP and Sinn Fein, could block a renewal or the border arrangement. Since Sinn Fein wouldn’t (it would mean aligning Northern Ireland more heavily with Britain and breaking its integration with Ireland), that leaves the DUP alone with veto power. 

The DUP has used the two-thirds rule to block same-sex marriage and legalized abortion. I don’t know what Sinn Fein has used it for. 

The DUP and Sinn Fein have the same number of delegates in the assembly. They’re ringed by eight smaller parties that float around them like the dust of broken moons. Nobody has a two-thirds majority.

Or–well, move that into the past tense, since the assembly’s stopped meeting.

The EU has called on the British government to publish the complete text of its plan, because the Irish prime minister says Johnson has misled parliament over the impact it would have. So far, the government has published a no more than a summary. 

The EU gave Britain a week to come up with new solutions to the problems it says are inherent in the current plan. 

And now, at last, the shampoo: Johnson had planned a quick tour of Europe to hold meetings with assorted Important People, but everyone who matters told him they’ll be washing their hair and won’t have time to meet with him. So there are scheduling problems. 

Is anything else happening? Well, yes. It’s gotten lost in the mayhem, but it looks like Johnson will try–again–to suspend parliament on Tuesday. To prepare for the queen’s speech. Which is what he said last time. It’ll be interesting to see if Madge (as our neighbor likes to call her majesty) is as agreeable as she was last time he asked. If he doesn’t get her agreement, he can’t suspend parliament. Since she asked for advice about sacking a prime minister the last time he asked her for a suspension, a person could reasonably get the impression that she’s not happy with the current one.

Madge, here’s how it works: You take him to the returns desk and explain that he doesn’t fit. Or he shrank in the wash. Or the color turns out not to match the rug. They’ll ask if you’d like to exchange him or if you want your money back. They’ll be nice about it. You’re the queen. They don’t usually see queens at the returns desk. Of course they’ll be nice.

If, on the other hand, you ordered him online, you’ll need the box he came in. If he doesn’t fit, just bundle it around him as best you can.

Anything else happening? Of course. It never ends. The Welsh nationalist party, Plaid Cymru–not a small fringe group but the party that came second the most recent election–just held its conference and is calling for a referendum on independence, holding out the prospect of joining the EU. Its leader, Adam Price, said, “The UK as we know it could cease to exist in a short few years.” 

He has also called on the UK to pay reparations for–I’m paraphrasing or I’ll be up all night typing–looting Welsh resources.

Meanwhile, Guy Verhofstadt, the coordinator of the EU parliament’s Brexit steering group, somehow got his mitts on a leaked script given to a Conservative MP by his or her party. The Guardian wrote that it “instructed them to attack the EU as ‘crazy’ if it rejected [Johnson’s] proposals.” 

He went public with it. 

Who could resist?

And finally, Johnson’s announced that he’s scrapping Theresa May’s commitment to keep EU rules on the environment, working rights, and safety standards. It’ll make it easier to negotiate a deal with the US.

That’s all we’ve got as of Friday night. I’m going to bed before anything else can happen. If I’m asleep, it didn’t happen.


Update: Saturday morning’s paper (that’s Oct. 5) reports that Johnson says there’ll be no delay to Brexit. Government lawyers say he’ll follow the law and ask for an extension. Online stories say the law “only imposes narrow [duties]…which can be interpreted in different ways.” He may be negotiating with Hungary to get it to veto an extension.

What happens next? Good question.

59 thoughts on “The Brexit update, with shampoo

  1. I don’t know why, but I’m thinking about how this stuff gets taught to school children. Do they have to have a timestamp indicating when they learned Brexit? It is good to see that your MPs don’t seem to be any brighter than our Congress. What is it about people that causes them to give all the power to dumb people?

    Liked by 1 person

    • The problem, I think, isn’t that some people who’ve tried to negotiate an exit were initially in favor of remaining. The problem is that disentangling a country that’s become deeply integrated is messy at best, and damaging. No one’s found a practical way to do it without staying in the customs union, which the hard Brexiteers don’t want to do. The people who are most vocally in favor of leaving are, basically, saying, “To hell with it, we’ll just leave and pick up the pieces later.” I wouldn’t be too quick to credit them with good faith. Johnson himself isn’t a particularly Brexit-flavored thinker. He sees it as a good career move, I think.

      Much as I dislike May, I think she did want to find a practical way for the country to leave. Having said that, I think her plan’s a mess and she did nothing to unite anyone around it–it was very much my way or the highway. But deliberate sabotage? Nothing I’ve seen supports that.

      What kind of plan will the EU approve? At this point, they’ve approved May’s. The sticking point is that they’re trying to avoid a hard border in Ireland, and I think they’re right to. Is there a way to do that without Britain staying in the customs union? Probably not. Would leaving the customs union be in Britain’s favor? I doubt it. We’ll lose environmental regulations, food regulations, working condition regulations, and the current government will do nothing to replace them with anything approaching their quality.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Sounds like the government will ask for the extension. But they are pretty. sure it will be turned down so they are telling everyone to get ready because they will be leaving at the end of the month. Johnson could have used better language to say that.

    Sounds like the Irish plan to ignore the law about the border. Is there anyone who would try to force them to comply. And will it be bad if they don’t.

    We have a movement here to impeach and remove both Trump and Pence. That would make Pelosi President. We are having fun on both sides of the big lake.

    Appears November 1 will be a big day. All Saints Day, I believe. May the Saints preserve us.

    Why do we elect dumb people. Well, half the population is below average in IQ. Was anyone expecting anything different as an outcome?


    Liked by 2 people

      • In your post you quoted some Irish person of high office saying he would not hire staff to enforce border security. So I thought that it sounded like there was no intent to enforce. Have I just started a rumor? That is how those rumors get started. Someone reads it hears something and then goes and tells someone else what they thought it meant.

        As Trump said about the media: “They exaggerate my exaggerations.”

        Liked by 1 person

        • Ah, no Irish. Northern Irish–the part of the island that’s British. So you’ve got an official of a part of the UK saying, “If that’s your agreement, find someone else to do your border checks, because we’re busy.”

          Yogi Berra once (allegedly) said, “I never said half the things I said.”


  3. The present situation reminds me of the French TV series Les Shadoks from the late sixties and seventies….notable for such pronouncements as ‘if there is no solution it is because there is no problem’ ….if you keep trying you will eventually succeed, so the more it goes wrong the better the chances of succeeding’….’why make it simple when you can make it complicated’….and, of course, ‘to have the least possible number of the discontented, always wallop the same ones’…

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Thanks! I think I’m all up-to-date on the craziness of Brexit. If Boris is trying to dump EU environmental regs, then I expect to hear he is investigating Biden and son on Tuesday as the wheels of my plane touch down at Gatwick and all the MPs are shuffling out a second time. By Wednesday I’ll be looking for a sweet pic of him sitting daintily on Trump’s lap as they greedily discuss their plans to turn England into the 51st state, a place to wallow in profits made. In their demented view I may not even need a passport upon my return except that in my own fantasy California will have seceded by then and Donald and Boris will be seen holding hands as they waddle into a special holding cell somewhere mid-Atlantic. Such is the pace of revelations, confessions, obfuscation, plan lying, etc. I think I’ll need a lot of cream teas on this trip, nevermind the calories.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Boris Johnson should not count on the Trump administration – destroyer of women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, environmental protections, worker’s rights; hater of our Constitution – to be around to deal with. Trump is being impeached by our Congress. This will not remove him from office, as the Senate will not convict due to party politics. Nonetheless, this will weaken him, along with the many broken promises he made to the poor saps who believed him. I fully expect our next president will restore these protections.

    Of course, I never believed Trump could elected in the first place, so I have to entertain the possibility that he could be re-elected……

    I’m sorry Britain has to endure the same level of insanity that we are.

    Liked by 2 people

    • The insanity over here has a particularly British cast, which I confess makes it easier for me to make fun of. If I were still in the US, I doubt I’d be able to see the funny side of it all.


  6. “…he’s scrapping all of Teresa May’s proposals…” Yes, that is certainly working for tRump – if Obama touched it, it has COOTIES ! Never mind air or water quality, kids in cages or any of that sissy stuff ! Get rid of it so you can piss on it and imbue it with YOUR manly scent !

    Sorry – your analogy made sense to me, so I saw what was going on. I can usually find the humor – as you can – but I have relatives from Ireland too (they had left Scotland just ahead of the headman;s ax, as my cousin Carl put it.)…these are real people – not just buying shampoo or whiskey – lives may be at stake. – Welsh lives , Scottish lives – What people do these @#$^&%$’s think they are supposed to be representing? (I was, for many years, a registered Republican…)
    “Madge” may be our only hope ! God save the Queen ! (I do have a friend in Canada who has been there since Vietnam who thinks I can still get in…)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oops. Did I say he was scrapping all of May’s proposals? Sorry, sorry, sorry. Actually, I think the body of the agreement still stands. The changes I’ve read about all center on the Irish border. And her promise to maintain EU standards–but that wasn’t in writing anyway and I wouldn’t have put a lot of money on it holding if the agreement had gone through when she was PM. The rest of the agreement, as far as I know, still stands.


      • “Oh – never mind !” as one of the early characters on Saturday Night Live used to say. Actually, I may have misinterpreted what you said. When I wrote the comment I was so infuriated by what I was hearing on the news that I may have just conflated a bunch of things between B J and The Donald. I apologize for my rant.

        Liked by 1 person

        • No problem with a rant or three here. I felt bad that I hadn’t taken the time to go back and see if I’d written something I hadn’t meant to. It happens, although I try to re-read enough to filter that out, but there are times….


  7. Benn Act – hasn’t there been enough extensions already? Just how does this act work, if you don’t have an extension then you have to ask for one, and if you ask for one and it expires then you have to ask for another one because you have to always have an extension?

    If the Welsh break from the union and the Scotts follow likewise, what will happen to the Doctor? Is he only a Londoner?

    Liked by 1 person

    • No one has asked what will happen to the Doctor, which is a grave national oversight. But no, he’s not a Londoner. He’s a time lord, from another planet altogether but with a strange attachment to this small chunk of land in the Atlantic.

      If chunks of the UK leave, I’d expect Scotland to go before Wales. That movement’s well underway and a referendum on it failed by a fairly small margin. The Welsh are only just beginning to talk about it.

      About extensions: I’ve forgotten how many there’ve been. More than one. But if the choices are walking out disastrously or being frustrated by more talks and extensions, I choose Door Number Two. You’re talking about tearing apart economies that have grown into each other quite deeply. Honestly, no one knows how to do it well. And to date, the British approach at home has been something along the lines of, “We won the referendum so the rest of you guys just shut up.” Which has not helped to bring a divided country together. There might, just remotely, have been a way to bring people at least closer together over this but it hasn’t been tried. As a result, we’re all at each other’s throats over it. Leaving isn’t going to end that. Neither, unfortunately, will not leaving. If I knew what would, I promise I’d tell you.

      Liked by 2 people

  8. Oh, my. This is worrisome and I don’t even live there, but I do live in this carefully woven together world. Incompetence, stupidity and stubbornness brought this mess about (and ours, too; ugh that we would both have leaders who might be in legal trouble…) and the fact that politicians don’t ever want to explain complexity (nor do many people want to hear it) doesn’t help. Ugh. We have a second whistle blower this morning…

    Liked by 2 people

    • It’s an interesting–okay, disturbing–trend in our shared culture that so many people think electing a non-politician, or a politician who doesn’t behave like one–will solve the problems that politicians have created.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. The scary or maybe to some hilarious aspect here is that according to his sister Rachel Johnson, who was interviewed by BBC radio, Boris Johnson “is loving it” all. And that “it also could be from, who knows, people who have invested billions in shorting the pound or shorting the country in the expectation of a no-deal Brexit.”
    (the full interview:
    It’s all a game for some people, namely those who were born with the prverbial silver spoon etc.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I think you’re onto something there–that it’s a game for him. Not that people shorting the pound aren’t playing for keeps, just that I think he wears his beliefs very, very lightly.


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