Wednesday, October 25, 2017


"It is highly likely that the Brexit negotiations will fail, imposing an abrupt shock on the UK economy and ruining relations with its neighbours. This view is condemned by those who insist we must be more positive. That is like advising someone who has just jumped off a building that, if only he thought positively, he could fly. To understand the state we are now in we need to understand the zombie ideas that hold so many Brexiters in their grip. The first such idea is that the EU is being unreasonable in insisting that the broad terms of the divorce (if not the details) are settled before moving on to transitional arrangements. David Davis, who is in charge of the negotiations for the UK, complained to the House of Commons that “they are using time pressure to see if they can get more money out of us. Bluntly that’s what is going on — it’s obvious to anybody.” Indeed, it is. Stop complaining: that is what strong parties do. A linked zombie idea is that the UK is really in a stronger position than the EU, because it runs a trade deficit with it. But, even in goods, UK exports to the EU are three times more important to the UK’s economy than vice versa (7.5 per cent of gross domestic product against 2.5 per cent). Even without the UK, the EU remains the second-largest economy in the world, with an economy almost six times bigger, at market prices, in 2016. The UK is negotiating with an economic superpower. How does that feel? Just ask the Canadians, now negotiating with the US over the North American Free Trade Agreement".
Martin Wolf, "Zombie ideas about Brexit that refuse to die". The Financial Times. 19 October 2017, in
"Even “no deal” would not mean no trade with EU countries. We have lots of options – even without a formal trade deal with the EU. Business, industry, and people’s livelihoods are at stake here, but unfortunately this bunch do not seem to care about any of this. They care just about making ridiculous headlines. The latest comments from Tusk come on the heels of the European Council summit, where it seemed tentative steps were made towards progressing negotiations onto trade talks. Now we have the use of words like defeat and victory, which have been studiously avoided in negotiations so far. This inflammatory and contradictory language displays just how fickle the EU leaders can be – and how far negotiations have to go. There is plenty of time for EU leaders to delay and frustrate these talks and return to their more usual belligerent tone. The EU needs to stop playing games with the livelihoods of millions on either side of the Channel. Unless the EU gets real’, they risk creating a no deal scenario which will do far more damage to them than to us".
Jayne Adye, "The EU must stop playing games over Brexit". Reaction. 24 October 2017, in
The chief economics commentator of the Financial Times, Mr. Martin Wolf is of course correct. And the egregiously naive or ill-informed Mrs. Adye is incorrect in assuming that (in her words): "a no deal scenario...will do far more damage to them [the European Union] than to us" 1. As Mr. Wolf cogently and ably points out, the statistics clearly show that the United Kingdom depends three-times as much on trade with the European Union than the European Union does with the United Kingdom. Already there have been plenty of noises coming out from the big Banks and other large companies who use their UK businesses as a platform to export to the rest of the European Union, that sans some sort of mutually agreed road map in place by no later than late this year or early next (say April 2018), then these businesses will commence making plans to move operations out of the United Kingdom rather than take the risk of a 'hard Brexit' or a no-deal Brexit occurring 2. As the pro-Brexit, but realistic Spectator columnist James Forsyth recently commented: "The EU knows that time is on its side. The two-year Article 50 clock strengthen its hand so it is happy to see it tick down" 3. The fact of the matter is that unless and until Prime Minister May makes a firm decision to seek the very best agreement with Brussels that will inevitably involve compromises that not everyone will like in her party, then there is a great risk of there not being an agreement in time to meet the deadline of the end of March 2019. And leave no doubt, for that deadline to be anywhere near approaching without the United Kingdom securing an agreement with the European Union will result in a catastrophic economic slide in the United Kingdom economy, based merely on the uncertainty. The fact is as the commentator Allan Massie recently & correctly noted:
"Mrs May became Prime Minister for an honourable reason : the Queen’s Government must be carried on. It may be also that she is, honourably again, attempting to secure a compromise: a soft Brexit which will enable us to retain many of the advantages of membership of the EU while freeing us of some of the unwelcome burdens. Such a compromise might well be in the national interest, but it will not satisfy the nationalist zealots. She cannot however draw back because even to hint at doing so would inflame the passions of those who believed that “Leave means Leave”. Yet to satisfy these passions and make the clean break – taking the “No Deal” option – will leave the 48 percent who voted Remain variously dismayed, aggrieved and angry. The truth is that there is no General Will. No outcome will please everybody. Every outcome will be felt as a betrayal by millions. We cannot go back to where we were before the politicians supinely chose not to abide by the principles of representative democracy and surrendered their judgement to the people who had elected them to exercise that judgement. So we are in a mess, confusion worse confounded. The best we can hope for is a very British fudge, a Brexit that satisfies nobody, but one that fools most of the people long enough to allow passions to subside 4."
A 'very British fudge' will be infinitely better than a no-deal or hard Brexit. That is a mere fact of life.
1. Jayne Adye, op. cit.
2. See a statement last week from Goldman Sachs chief Lloyd Blankfein, in: Martin Arnold & George Packard, "Blankfein heaps pressure on May over Brexit as he praises Frankfurt". The Financial Times. 19 October 2017, in
3.James Forsyth, "The plots thicken". The Spectator. 14 October 2017, in
4. Allan Massie, "A Brexit to please nobody". Reaction. 25 November 2017, in

Friday, October 06, 2017


"This was in late December 1936, less than seven months ago as I write, and yet it is a period that has already receded into enormous distance. Later events have obliterated it much more completely than they have obliterated 1935, or 1905, for that matter. I had come to Spain with some notion of writing newspaper articles, but I had joined the militia almost immediately, because at that time and in that atmosphere it seemed the only conceivable thing to do. The Anarchists were still in virtual control of Catalonia and the revolution was still in full swing. To anyone who had been there since the beginning it probably seemed even in December or January that the revolutionary period was ending; but when one came straight from England the aspect of Barcelona was something startling and overwhelming. It was the first time that I had ever been in a town where the working class was in the saddle. Practically every building of any size had been seized by the workers and was draped with red flags or with the red and black flag of the Anarchists; every wall was scrawled with the hammer and sickle and with the initials of the revolutionary parties; almost every church had been gutted and its images burnt. Churches here and there were being systematically demolished by gangs of workman. Every shop and cafe had an inscription saying that it had been collectivised; even the bootblacks had been collectivized and their boxes painted red and black. Waiters and shop-walkers looked you in the face and treated you as an equal. Servile and even ceremonial forms of speech had temporarily disappeared. Nobody said 'Sen~or' or 'Don' ort even 'Usted'; everyone called everyone else 'Comrade' or 'Thou', and said 'Salud!' instead of 'Buenos dias'. Tipping had been forbidden by law since the time of Primo de Rivera; almost my first experience was receiving a lecture from a hotel manager for trying to tip a lift-boy. There were no private motor-cars, they had all been commandeered, and the trams and taxis and much of the other transport were painted red and black. The revolutionary posters were everywhere, flaming from the walls in clean reds and blues that made the few remaining advertisements look like daubs of mud. Down the Ramblas, the wide central artery of the town where crowds of people streamed constantly to and fro, the loud-speakers were bellowing revolutionary songs all day and far into the night. And it was the aspect of the crowds that was the queerest thing of all. In outward appearance it was a town in which the wealthy classes had practically ceased to exist. Except for a small number of women and foreigners there were no 'well-dressed' people at all. Practically everyone wore rough working-class clothes, or blue overalls or some variant of militia uniform. All this was queer and moving. There was much in this that I did not understand, in some ways I did not not even like it, but I recognized it immediately as a state of affairs worth fighting for. Also, I believed that things were as they appeared, that this was really a workers' State and that the entire bourgeoisie had either fled, been killed or voluntarily come over to the workers' side; I did not realise that great numbers of well-to-do bourgeois were simply lying low and disguising themselves as proletarians for the time being".
George Orwell. Homage to Catalonia. Revised Edition. (2010), pp. 6-7.
"Catalonia’s referendum belongs to a very different category. It lacks legal validity and political legitimacy. In their response to the gathering storm, Mariano Rajoy, Spain’s prime minister, and his ruling Popular party have been cack-handed at best. They have unnecessarily alienated many Catalans and been sluggish and unimaginative. After the crisis erupted in 2010, when Spain’s constitutional court struck down parts of a new statute of autonomy for Catalonia, Madrid let several opportunities for talks go to waste. However, none of this makes the Spanish state the tyrannical ogre that inhabits the fantasies of Catalan separatists. There is a world of difference between the abuses committed against Catalonia under Francisco Franco, the dictator who died in 1975, and the extensive self-government and individual freedom that the region and its people have enjoyed for the past four decades. Catalan nationalists purport to speak in the name of the whole people. It is a baseless claim. In truth, the separatists are driving forward a radical agenda that deeply divides Catalonian society. This will be evident on Sunday. Large numbers of voters will refuse to take part in the referendum because they regard it, correctly, as illegal and because they do not support secession from Spain. Mr Rajoy has the right, indeed the absolute duty, to uphold the law. But his government would be wise to display restraint in coming days, so as not to play into the secessionists’ hands and create a roll-call of martyrs. At some stage, a fresh dialogue must start between Madrid and the Catalan authorities. Yet it must be on the basis of the rule of law. The separatists are treating this principle in the most flagrantly high-handed manner."
Leader. "Catalan secessionism is bad for Spain and Europe". The Financial Times. 29 September 2017, in
One does not have to be a sympathizer with the idiocy of Catalan nationalism: the ultimate in a cause in search of a country, to realize that Spanish Prime Minister Rajoy made a fundamental mistaken, an erratum by sending in the police to endeavor to stop last week's referendum from taking place. Instead of giving the appearance of masterly inactivity by studiously ignoring the 'referendum' and its 'results', Rajoy played in to the worst fantasies of arch-Catalan nationalists by trying by the employment of force to stop the idiotic voting exercise. Once again: one does not have to be an adherent of Catalan nationalism or small nation nationalism per se, to make the determination that the employment of even a limited amount of force to stop a peaceful if wrong-headed political farce was absolutely the wrong way to proceed in this matter by the authorities in Madrid. Now of course the fat is really in the fire and now the ball is most definitely in the court of the authorities in Barcelona unfortunately. As the British commentator Allan Massie (no friend to Catalan Nationalism) stated earlier this week, that Rajoy would have been well advised to have borrowed the script employed by the former British Prime Minister David Cameron when the latter had to deal with the equally idiotic Scottish referendum three years ago:
"The Unionist case during the campaign was led by Scottish politicians. Mr Cameron made it clear that he hoped Scotland would vote “no”, and his Government pointed out that an independent Scotland would not get everything the Nationalists wanted. In particular It could not share a common currency with the rest of the UK. By and large however the argument was conducted within Scotland by Scottish politicians on Scottish terms. In short no legal obstacles were erected against the Nationalists.They were given their head, conducting the Referendum on their own terms; and they lost. If Mr Cameron had been less accommodating, they might have won. If he had acted as Mr Rajoy has, tens, perhaps hundreds,of thousands of Scots would have been converted to the cause of Independence. So if Mr Rajoy had called him, Mr Cameron might have said, “cool down – give them enough rope and let them hang themselves" 1.
1. Allan Massie, "Mr Rajoy needs some referendum lessons from David Cameron". Reaction. 3 October 2017 in