Brexit renewed for another season!

(Credit: Telegraph)
(Credit: Telegraph)

 

About that last minute reprieve I alluded to in my post the other day …

BRUSSELS — With less than 48 hours before Britain’s scheduled departure, the European Union extended the exit deadline early Thursday until the end of October, avoiding a devastating cliff-edge divorce but settling none of the issues that have plunged British politics into chaos, dysfunction and recrimination.

Fittingly, the new deadline for Britain to get out of the EU is October 31, Halloween. As the BBC put it this morning, that’s both a trick and a treat.

The treat is that the UK gets to postpone the disastrous no-deal crash out that tomorrow would have brought. The trick is that the delay solves nothing, and has the counterproductive effect of taking the immediate pressure off the British parliament to find a way out of the European Union that they can actually agree to.

The dynamic is reminiscent of the caution that negotiation and conflict resolution scholar I. William Zartman makes about the downside of ceasefires in a stalemated civil war. The upside of a ceasefire, Zartman acknowledges, is that the killing stops, at least temporarily. The downside, though, is that a ceasefire allows both sides to become comfortable with the stalemate and gives them no incentive to negotiate an actual end to the war.

Sometimes, Zartman suggests, it’s better to let the parties race up to and even across the precipice of disaster so that the resulting pain forces a resolution once and for all. A no-deal Brexit would be painful indeed, but perhaps necessary for the UK to snap to its senses.

Because frankly, given their inability to figure this out over the last almost three years of deliberation and negotiation, there’s little to suggest that more time will produce much beyond more dithering and dysfunction.

Meanwhile, Al Jazeera has been reporting on the very same thorny issues of Brexit, identity, and conflict in Northern Ireland that my colleague and I are exploring in our research. Give a watch.

Drool Britannia

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Two weeks ago I wrote about delusional British Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson’s ludicrous claim that Brexit would free the UK to return to a muscular, interventionist foreign policy. Rule Britannia!

Today, thanks to Business Insider, we get a much more realistic story about what Brexit will mean for Britain:

LONDON — The UK government is due to hold emergency talks with industry leaders on Tuesday after discovering that the country doesn’t have the right pallets to continue exporting goods to the European Union if it leaves without a deal next month.

That’s right, the ubiquitous flat wooden structures that companies worldwide use for shipping their goods in large volume, are now the latest oversight in the ongoing farce that is Brexit. It turns out the European Union has really strict rules for pallets coming into the EU from “third countries,” i.e. non-members. Like Britain will be after they crash out of the union in a few short weeks.

Wood pallets must be heat-treated or cleaned to prevent contamination and the spread of pests, and have specific markings to confirm that they legal in EU markets.

And, of course, the Brits don’t have any, or at least not nearly enough. No, what they’ve got are pallets that meet the much looser standards that the EU applies to its members. And while this is a real joke, it’s actually no laughing matter.

The Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs last week told business leaders that the UK would not have enough EU-approved pallets for exporting to the continent if it leaves without a withdrawal agreement next month.

That means UK companies would be competing for a small number of pallets which meet EU rules, and those that miss out would be forced to wait for new pallets which could take weeks to be ready.

As one industry figure who had been briefed on this looming fiasco by Prime Minister Theresa May’s government put it, it’s the little things that trip you up in a process like this. Another put it more bluntly:

Affected industry figures who were scheduled for talks with the government said they were baffled about why it took ministers so long to learn of the dearth of pallets, given that they are a basic feature of cross-border trade.

“The point of transition was that it provided the two years we needed to get ready,” one business figure told Business Insider. “Now we are trying to get ready in a few weeks. What sort of lunatic would do that?”

What sort of lunatic? Why, the very British sort indeed.

Rule Britannia, another Brexit delusion

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In a speech to a UK think tank yesterday, British Defense Secretary Gavin Williamson argued that leaving the European Union will open a door for Britain to pursue a renewed, muscular, interventionist, unilateral foreign and defense policy:

In an era of ‘Great Power’ competition we cannot be satisfied simply protecting our own backyard. The UK is a global power with truly global interests. … And since the new Global Great Game will be played on a global playing field, we must be prepared to compete for our interests and our values far, far from home.

That is why Global Britain needs to be much more than a pithy phrase. It has to be about action. And our armed forces represent the best of Global Britain in action. Taking action alongside our friends and allies. Action to strengthen the hand of fragile nations and to support those who face natural disasters. Action to oppose those who flout international law. Action to shore up the global system of rules and standards on which our security and our prosperity depends.

And action, on occasion, that may lead us to have to intervene alone.

Apparently, after Brexit, Britannia will once again rule the waves. Color me skeptical.

The last time the United Kingdom “had to intervene alone,” i.e. unilaterally projected military power abroad, was 1982, when Margaret Thatcher sent British troops and warships 8,000 miles to a remote colony in the South Atlantic to wrest back control of some windswept rocks that had been invaded and seized by Argentina.

By the time the Falklands War was over, 649 Argentines and 255 Brits were killed in action, including more than 300 Argentine sailors who drowned when their WWII-era cruiser, the Gen. Belgrano, was torpedoed by a British nuclear submarine.

The financial cost to liberate the 1,800 British subjects and about 400,000 sheep who at the time constituted the Falklands population? The contemporary estimate was $1.19 billion, or the equivalent of about $3 billion today.

Take away it’s nuclear arsenal and Britain would struggle to be described as a military great power. It’s land forces and navy have over the years shrunk to a shadow of their former selves, and are likely no match for the kinds of adversaries Williamson envisions by evoking a 21st century Great Game of the sort that pitted the old British Empire against its Russian imperial rival two centuries ago.

To give an idea of how wildly implausible all of this is, the plan Williamson announced includes the purchase of a pair of civilian passenger ferries or cargo ships for conversion into amphibious assault vessels. And don’t forget the “swarm fleets” of off-the-shelf drones that he envisions fielding alongside the Royal Air Force.

The idea implicit in Williamson’s speech, that membership in the European Union has prevented the UK from militarily asserting its national interests is equally farfetched. Beyond it’s own weakness, a greater constraint on British adventurism, if it really wanted to engage in such, is its membership in NATO. And that’s not going changing, at least not anytime soon.

Only 47 more days until Brexit!

This is England

 

god save queen

As I was getting ready to leave for work this  morning I heard on the radio an interview with John Lydon talking about his new book, Mr. Rotten’s Songbook, which includes the lyrics to every song he’s ever written, from his Sex Pistols days forward.

Fun fact: Lydon says he got his nickname, Johnny Rotten, from the green, decayed teeth he had when recruited for the Sex Pistols.

So for your Friday, here’s a John Lydon and, given the events of the week, Brexit-inspired playlist featuring the Sex Pistols, The Clash, and Billy Bragg.