Lifestyle & Culture

Brexit buzz: The latest developments as the UK counts down to 31 January 2020

(Editor’s note: Liam Fox infamously said Brexit would be “the easiest negotiation in human history.” Instead, we’re now on our fourth Brexit deadline, 31 January 2020. At least until the United Kingdom asks the European Union for the next extension.)

When the Brexit vote came up on 23 June 2016, we went to bed that night thinking this wasn’t a big deal. Who in their right mind would vote to leave the European Union, the largest, richest and most frictionless single economy in the world?

We awoke to the answer on 24 June 2016: A majority – 51.9 percent – of the voters in the United Kingdom, or more than 17 million people.

In the run-up to the election, then-United Kingdom Independent Party leader Nigel Farage (who has a German wife and several French mistresses), Boris Johnson – now prime minister – and others on the Far Right had convinced a lot of British people the EU was the bête noire, responsible for all the UK’s troubles.

Leaving the EU would mean an extra 350 million pounds each week for the National Health Service; the UK would get a Brexit dividend and would soon be able to cut taxes with the windfall from brilliant new trade treaties around the globe.

None of which has turned out to be actually true.

Now, closing in on 29 March, 12 April, 31 October, 31 January 2020, what was billed as “the easiest negotiations in human history” has gone nowhere as former Prime Minister Theresa May’s government discovered what those Remoaners suspected – divorces are bitter to the end.

After more than three years, Brexit remains at Square One as the United Kingdom heads into a general election on 12 December, the third in five years.


Nigel Farage’s unveiling of the Brexit Party’s 600 candidates running (theoretically) against Labour candidates did not go well. Twenty immediately quit the race and denounced the party. The headline editors at the Daily Express and Daily Mail, who – up to this point – have idolized the original Bad Boy of Brexit seized the moment and turned on Nigel.

If you’re a connoisseur of British tabloid headlines (and we are), you’ll know Farage has been a right-wing demigod. Not any more as the Stiff Upper Lip set fear that instead of taking out Labour, the Brexit Party will split the conservative vote and put Jeremy Corbyn in No. 10.

Here are some of the latest headlines from the Express:

Farage making major error in taking on Boris – Fears Brexit Party will ‘split the vote’

Brexit POLL: Has Farage made an error taking on Boris as 20 Brexit Party candidates quit?

Even the Telegraph joined in: Brexit POLL: Has Farage made an error taking on Boris as 20 Brexit Party candidates quit?

The haunting fear in the back of the Brexiteers’ minds is that Brexit has less popular support than they’ve claimed, citing the sacred (and minuscule) majority of the original 2016 referendum. As the agonizing three-year process gets tested in the polls, they worry Labour will propose a second referendum, win the general election and the whole Brexit movement will disappear as Britain wakes up from a bad dream.

• File this under “so many betrayals, so little time.” Boris Johnson’s frenemy Donald Trump just suggested that if Johnson pursues his Brexit transition deal with the European Union, the United Kingdom will be black-listed by the United States for any post-Brexit free trade deals. Rather, Trump said, Johnson needs to join forces with Nigel Farage to work for a no-deal Brexit. Which Johnson has said he will never do. In turn, Farage – ever the dogmatist – recommends that Johnson drop his deal “because it’s not Brexit.”

So Farage is threatening to run more than 600 Brexit Party candidates against Conservative Party candidates the areas of  England, Wales, the Midlands and even London where the Tories are most vulnerable. Which could have the effect of handing the 12 December elections to Labour or to the Liberal Democrats. Which could mean no Brexit at all.

If you’re waiting for the adults to intervene, we wouldn’t hold our collective breathes.

• Looking ahead to the 12 December election, the question is, “Who has the votes?” Is it the Tories? Labour? Liberal Democrats? The Brexit Party?

The Conservative Party and Prime Minister Boris Johnson currently enjoy a 10-point lead in the polls over Jeremy Corbyn and Labour. But the UK has a parliamentary system with multiple parties (and factions within those parties), so it’s difficult to win a majority. Which means building coalitions, such as the one the Tories have had with the far-right Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland, is a delicate necessity. Of course, the DUP turned on Johnson over the customs agreement he hammered out with EU officials for the Irish border, dooming his agreement to leave just like Theresa May before him.

So, Johnson has readmitted at least 10 Tory “rebels” expelled for refusing to go along with his no-deal Brexit strategy. Then there’s Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, which could seize the day, as well as the Liberal Democrats, and who knows where they’ll end up. And don’t forget the Scottish nationalists and the Scottish conservatives.

Our prediction: The election produce another parliamentary gridlock, with the EU deciding to cut the UK loose to spend the next few years in a no-deal purgatory.

• We’ve been talking and texting regularly with our network of British expats in Germany and the Netherlands and no one feels like they completely understand every twist and turn of the Brexit plot. If there is an agreement between Remainers and Leavers among our expats, it’s that not one positive thing will come out of this for them as they must now rush to do everything from registering with host countries to dealing with post-Brexit travel and work restrictions.

More to come on this point. Thanks, Dominic Cummings.

• File this under “Hope Springs Eternal.” The independent, nonpartisan National Institute of Economic and Social Research projects Brexit will cost the UK economy 70 billion pounds in growth. But government officials say, “Pish posh!” Freed of Brussels’ tyranny, the government will negotiate a comprehensive free trade agreement with the European Union more ambitious than the agreements on which the NIESR bases its projections. This after EU officials have never waivered for three years on one point – the UK will never, ever get a better deal that the 27 remaining EU countries. As it says above, divorces are bitter to the bitter end.

Moreover, multinationals – especially in the financial sector – are leaving the UK in droves, and the auto industry is winding down. So we get that Brexit is a huge boost for the economies of Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands. But not clear on how the UK comes a net economic winner.

• We long ago quit saying, “There’s no way Brexit could be any bigger of a mess.” Eight days till 31 October, Parliament voted against Boris Johnson’s accelerated three-day plan to pass his withdrawal agreement with the European Union. The headlines all include words such as “limbo” and “purgatory.”

So, Boris “paused” Brexit, waiting to see if the EU will grant another extension, opening the door to a general election. Brexit has broken our brains in the sense that we can no longer comprehend all the possible outcomes.

An anonymous wag inside Boris’ cabinet put it this way to Politico:

This parliament is broken. The public will have to choose whether they want to get Brexit done with Boris or whether they want to spend 2020 having two referendums on Brexit and Scotland with [Labour leader Jeremy] Corbyn.

And guess what … they chose the latter.

• Another day, another smackdown for Boris Johnson as John Bercow ruled on 21 October that Johnson can’t resubmit his Brexit deal after Sir Oliver Letwin’s motion to block a no-deal Brexit carried the day earlier.

Pouring over everything that’s come before, we believe the only Brexit predictor is the Irish border. The unionists in Northern Ireland simply will not support any legislation that smacks of sacrificing their connection to the UK, leaving them under the brutal jackboots of the EU.

Trouble is, they see a glaring hole in Johnson’s plan – because the Irish border becomes the UK’s border with the EU, Northern Irish businesses will have to complete exit declarations when sending goods to Great Britain. That’s basically filling out a meaningless form that says goods are leaving the EU’s customs territory, but a regular customs declaration isn’t needed.

Except symbolism is everything in Ireland, and this one tiny glitch is seen as a total betrayal to the Democratic Unionist Party. And without DUP votes, Boris can’t get anything done. What was that line again? “The easiest negotiations in history”?

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