Brexit is the road to nowhere, whoever is driving the car

Brexit has ground to a halt. Theresa May will put her deal to Parliament again and it will fail again. At this rate we will come to the end of the extension period having achieved nothing. Which isn’t surprising, given that very little has really changed in the past two years.

Why has there been so little movement? Simple. Brexit is a really bad idea. Some of our politicians have known this for a while and the reality is beginning to dawn on many others. The trouble is, they haven’t got a clue what to do next.

People have come up with various analogies to illustrate the near impossible situation in which we now find ourselves. Perhaps the most famous is Hugo Rifkind’s ‘submarine made out of cheese’:

Perhaps a better way of understanding it, though, is to imagine that people had voted to get rid of motorways. After all, few of us like motorways. It’s much more pleasant to drive on A and B roads. If someone promised that it would be possible to get where you needed to go just as quickly on A roads and that you need never drive on a motorway again, there would be plenty of takers. After all, many of us have fond, half-remembered recollections of the days before motorways. Quiet roads and gentler speeds. Pootling through the Cotswolds, along tree-lined lanes, stopping at a little cafe or some woods by the road for a picnic, Dad having a chat with the petrol pump attendant on a crisp spring morning, the sun just poking through as the mist rises over the Fosse.

It’s even possible to construct a cod-economic argument against motorways. After all, the UK’s per capita GDP grew at a faster rate in the decades after the Second World War than it did from the mid-1970s. The more motorways we had, the less our economy grew. And just look at all those booming economies with much lower motorway density than the UK, such as India, China and Singapore. Motorways, who needs ’em?

The trouble is, after having voted narrowly to get rid of motorways the problems start to become clear. Motorways are baked into the business models of many UK firms. They assume that it will be possible to get from one point to another in a certain time. Many companies warn that getting rid of motorways will put them out of business. Others point to the devastating impact on just-in-time supply chains. Modelling by civil servants predicts a significant hit to the economy and, in the case of a sudden ‘cliff-edge’ closure, localised shortages of food and medicines.

Some politicians put forward compromise plans, such as a phased transition period or a ‘name only’ option under which all the motorways will be re-branded as ‘A+ Roads’. The ultras are having none of it though. They dismiss the warnings as ‘project fear’ and insist that the motorways be closed immediately as its ‘what the people voted for’. A TV presenter remarks that we managed fine in the 1960s before we had motorways. “It’s not the end of the world. We won’t starve,” say rich businessmen who can afford to go by helicopter or private plane. A bombastic and hitherto unknown MP pops up, decrying motorways as a foreign idea and saying that his dad didn’t fight at D-Day only to have a Nazi road system imposed on Britain.

The hardliners come up with ever more preposterous explanations as to why a sudden closure of the motorways would have barely any impact, often citing crank science or convoluted interpretations of obscure laws. A consultant appears offering to implement an as yet untested technological solution that would somehow enable A-road journeys to be done at motorway speeds but with none of the tedious unpleasantness. It could be done ‘if only governments had the will’ he insists. Despite most other experts dismissing this as a ‘unicorn solution’, his comments are seized on by hardliners as ‘proof’ that the motorways could shut tomorrow and life would go on as before.

MPs are split. At one extreme is a small but growing group who realise that the whole idea is crazy and should never have been suggested in the first place. At the other extreme is a group of ultras. They are a mixed bag, ranging from those harking back to a semi-mythical Golden Age of British Motoring, through to the financier-politicians paying lip-service to the nostalgic dream while salivating at the prospect of making a killing by building new toll roads. One MP, while publicly sticking to the patriotic rhetoric, advises his investors to get out of the industries that will clearly be damaged and to invest instead in those companies preparing for the new world of privatised highways.

In the middle is the bulk of MPs who know that closing the motorways will screw the country but who don’t want to be seen as going against the ‘will of the people’. They struggle frantically to find a compromise that will minimise both the economic damage and the risk to their political careers. Arcane ‘solutions’ are debated, voted on, rejected, amended and them debated again. The MPs hope that if they string it out, eventually something will turn up. Against all logic, some of them put their faith in a new leader somehow being able to sort something out. None of this will make any difference. It is a circle that can’t be squared. No matter how many people voted for it, it is impossible to close the motorways without severely damaging the country.

A ridiculous story? Well, yes, but not that much more ridiculous than the impasse we find ourselves in over Brexit. Membership of the European Union and the frictionless trade that goes with it is baked into companies’ business models just as surely as the assumption that they can use motorways to move their goods. The economic arguments for Brexit and the fairy-tale technologies and made-up legal arguments that will make it work are every bit as preposterous as the suggestion that we could close motorways and carry on as before. There really is no way of doing Brexit without damaging our economy and/or unravelling our country, unless we stay so close to the European Union that there seems little point in leaving. The options are, to varying degrees, bad so it’s no wonder we can’t get a majority for any of them.

None of this is going to change, regardless of who wins the Euro elections or whether a Tory leadership contest or a general election gives us a new prime minister. Whoever replaces Theresa May will be up against the same problems. However tough their talk, the reality remains the same. People have been promised the impossible – leaving the EU without any negative economic or geopolitical consequences. As a result, there is now no way out of this dilemma without significant political damage to parties and individual politicians. By far the least damaging option for the country would be to revoke Article 50 and stay in the EU. The political fallout will be horrible whatever happens but dealing with it after a chaotic Brexit would be so much worse. How long it will take for this penny to drop is anybody’s guess. Perhaps we need another leader to fail before the reality becomes so stark that even the most blinkered of MPs can see it. The road to Brexit leads only to stagnation and chaos. It’s time to turn off and take another route.

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The privatisation of capitalism

Donald Trump doesn’t listen to big business. Unusually for a Republican president, he seems to be ignoring the business lobby altogether, as Edward Luce reported in the FT:

Groups such as the Chamber of Commerce, and the Business Roundtable, complain loudly about Mr Trump’s immigration crackdown, his tariff wars and government shutdowns. The White House pays scant attention.

At least, he’s not listening to the sort of big business that presidents have usually listened to. His business friends are different:

It is not as though Mr Trump lacks business friends. But they differ from the traditional crowd. Almost none run publicly listed companies. They tend to be property developers, private equity billionaires, casino magnates, and heads of family-owned companies. They swim in different waters to C-suite executives.

Perhaps this isn’t surprising as an increasing amount of the country’s wealth is now located in those waters.

An increasing share of US capital nowadays is going to private companies. Over the last two decades the number of US listed companies has almost halved. Initial public offerings are no longer the obvious route for private equity-funded companies. PE firms either hold their stakes for longer or sell them to other private groups. The rise of the mega­fund, meanwhile, has allowed public companies to go private. Amazon may have had to go public to reach the $1tn valuation it briefly touched last year. It is by no means clear that Uber or WeWork must follow suit. In each of the last eight years, the amount of equity withdrawn from the US stock market has exceeded the equity raised — a trend known as “de-equitisation”.

De-equitisation is the process by which shares and in some cases entire companies are ‘bought back’ and thereby removed from public trading. Norma Cohen wrote about “the death of the cult of equity” last year. She noted that in both Europe and the US, the value of shares being bought back has exceeded the value of new share offerings for some time.

Between 2000 and 2017 some $821bn of new equity was added to European markets via initial public offerings. That, though, has been dwarfed by the $4.96tn of equity withdrawn from the market, mainly in the form of share buybacks, divestments or as a defensive response to an unwanted suitor. A portion of that, $429bn, has been withdrawn through companies delisting.

In the US — where the $40.3bn value of IPOs last year, was the highest since 2014 — public market activity barely made a dent. Between 2000 and 2017 roughly $4.88tn was withdrawn, which compares with the total value of new shares floated at $697bn. Even emerging markets are not immune; the data show that since the turn of the century $3.79tn has been withdrawn. That has more than offset the issuance of IPOs totalling $1.26tn, with 2017 raising the most new equity capital for issuers in any year since 2010.


Some commentators are even talking about the death of public markets. This piece by and on FTAlphaville last year also noted the sheer scale of buybacks:

We are tired of hearing that there is nothing inherently wrong with buybacks. There’s also nothing inherently wrong with tequila, but take too much of it at the wrong time, and you’re probably making bad life choices.

In the last week both Bernstein and Goldman Sachs have predicted that buybacks in the US will either reach or exceed $1t in 2018. Investors have been eager to explain that this capital is not disappearing. It is merely rotating out of equities and into other assets. But this is just an accurate restatement of the problem: public markets are shrinking.

Furthermore, they argued, stock markets are becoming places where investors go when they want to get money out of a company, not when they want to put money in:

Increasingly, companies don’t list on public markets because they need the money. They list on public markets because their early owners want a liquid market for their own shares. The listing is not an entrance into big capital. It’s an exit for the big capital that’s already there.

Take Spotify, for example:

When Spotify listed on the NYSE earlier this year Daniel Ek, the CEO, published a letter that basically said “Meh.” He wasn’t ringing any bells or doing interviews, he explained, he was just going to keep doing his thing, because Spotify was not raising capital. We’re not calling Mr Ek out on this. He was just saying something in plain English that’s been true for years.

Could this be the start of a shift in the way capitalism works?

What we’re seeing now is that corporations have access to enough private savings of wealthy citizens that they’re walking away from the deal. The pace of this year’s buybacks are only a piece of that story.

Last year, asset management company Schroders published a report, What is the point of the equity market? It notes the ‘savage’ pace of de-equitisation and the corresponding rise of private equity:

The private equity industry has grown substantially in scale and accessibility and now competes much more acutely with the public market. Global private equity assets under management rose more than fourfold between 2000 and the middle of 2016 to $2.5 trillion4, a record high. Although still small relative to the $36 trillion market capitalisation of MSCI All-Country World public equity index, private equity has grown 2.5 times faster over this period.

An important development has been the ability of companies to raise sums of money privately that previously would not have been possible outside of public markets. Facebook raised $2.4 billion before its $16 billion IPO in 2012, Twitter $800 million before its $1.8 billion IPO in 2013 and Google a scarcely believable $25 million before its $1.9billion IPO in 2004. However, in just the past few years the figures have skyrocketed – Didi Chuxing, a Chinese transport technology group, has raised $17 billion privately and Uber $10.7 billion. The ability to raise such huge sums privately defers one potential need for a public listing.

This may sound like a dry and esoteric subject but the potential implications are huge.

Firstly, there is the question of transparency. The more business takes place in companies which don’t have to report their activities, the less we know about what business does and the less publicly accountable it is. People might complain about what quoted companies do but at least there is some publicly available information about their activities, even if journalists and regulators sometimes don’t spot it until it is too late.

Secondly, as one investment blogger mused, are companies only being sold publicly when most of the growth potential has already gone? The Schroders report raised a similar concern:

Public market investors are now accessing companies at a much later stage of their development than in the past, if they are able to access them at all. Given that growth is generally most rapid in those earlier years, it is highly likely that public market investors are missing out on returns as a result. Aggregate stock market returns are likely to suffer, with savers standing to be the biggest losers.

A former investment manager I spoke to recently told me that this is exactly what is happening. He was rather more blunt though. Investors, he said, essentially dump companies onto public markets when they have extracted most of the value from them. Given that we have an ageing global population that is reliant on stock market performance to pay its pensions, if stock markets are increasingly made up of stuff the rich don’t want any more, will they provide the returns necessary to support an increasing proportion of the world’s people?

And thirdly, what about corporate governance? Most of our corporate governance reforms of the past three decades have been aimed at encouraging a longer-term outlook and curbing the excesses of public companies’ managers. Having realised that there is a limit to the impact non-executive directors can have, the UK government introduced the idea of shareholder stewardship. The Stewardship Code encourages institutional shareholders to act as joint stewards with company boards over the companies in which they invest. There is something almost quaint about this. Institutional investors with vast portfolios are even less likely to have an insight into what goes on in individual companies than the part-time non-executive directors are. But if the highest value companies are moving out of the public sphere anyway, what’s the point of applying increased regulation to the ones that are left? Isn’t it like building a dam half way across a river?

It is still early days and, as the Schroders report said, equity markets are not finished yet. But a shift of capital away from public markets  is bound to have ramifications for business and society. The global super rich eschew public health, public education systems and public transport. If they are checking out of public markets too, the 21st century variant of capitalism might turn out to be very different from the one we have been used to.

Many of us have tended to regard Donald Trump as a throwback, appealing to outdated notions of nationalism and elected by ageing voters with ageing ideas. But what if he and, more importantly, the people who support him, represent the future shape of western capitalism? Might his ascendency be another symptom of power shifting to a new type of corporate interest? Perhaps historians will remember Mr Trump not as a diehard reactionary but as the first private equity president, the logical result of shifts in wealth and power already evident by the early 21st century.

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12 reasons why Labour should oppose Brexit

Labour MP Jess Phillips says she wants to stop Brexit, despite the fact that the majority of people in her constituency probably voted Leave.

Everything is Remain Minus. Every deal shrinks the economy in some way.

If I lose my seat because I chose to do what I felt was the right thing for the people where I live and they don’t like that, I’ll live with that.

I wonder, though, whether she would lose her seat. Opinion is changing fast in Labour areas and among Labour voters. Two years on, a better-informed electorate is beginning to see the potential damage Brexit will cause.

Many on the left of the party are concerned too. At a Love Socialism, Hate Brexit event in the House of Commons, frontbencher Clive Lewis warned that Labour would be destroyed if it allowed a Tory Brexit.

Is there any other sort of Brexit, though? Isn’t any form of Brexit a Tory Brexit? From the beginning, leaving the EU was a Conservative Party project. By failing to oppose it, the Labour Party risks losing the support of many of its voters and of colluding in doing even more damage to those areas already hardest hit by the economic downturn and the austerity policies that followed.

Here, then, is why Labour must campaign to stay in the EU.

1. Brexit has already damaged the economy

Earlier this week, the Office for National Statistics published figures showing that 2018 was the worst year for economic growth since the financial crisis a decade ago. The UK was already at the bottom of the OECD investment league table but the last year saw four consecutive quarters of declining business investment.

As the FT’s Chris Giles commented:

The effects of Brexit were stamped all over the national accounts data.

Economists have been calculating the Brexit effect on the economy for more than a year and most agree that it has cost Britain between 1.5 per cent and 2.5 per cent of gross domestic product.

According to the Resolution Foundation, real household incomes are on average £1,500 lower than they would have been had the UK voted to stay in the EU.

2. There is ‘no jobs’ first Brexit

The damage Brexit has caused is likely to get worse once we actually leave. Every Brexit scenario, apart from those where we stay in the customs union and single market, will increase trade friction. There is no way that making trade more difficult than it is now can do anything other than  UK’s economy. Whether or not the forecasts turn out to be right is neither here nor there. As Giles Wilkes remarked:

I can’t forecast what my weight will be next year. I can accept analysis that eating a pound of butter a day will make me much fatter.

We can’t forecast the damage to the economy accurately but we can be absolutely certain that putting barriers in the way of trade will damage it.

Even if we manage to replicate our current EU trade deals (which is looking unlikely) and sign similar agreements with other large economies, it still won’t make up for the loss of the frictionless trade we currently enjoy with and through the EU.

Around 30 per cent of the entire value of UK exports, goods and services, is made up of inputs to products that are finished in the EU. The assumption of frictionless trade has led to the development of EU-wide production lines that are dependent on just-in-time trade. Border checks will slow that trade down and will encourage EU manufacturers to look for alternative suppliers.

This relocation of supply chains is already happening, as firms shift their business to the rest of Europe. Ford’s announcement this week that, like other car manufacturers, it is preparing to move business abroad, is an inevitable reaction to the likely disruption Brexit will bring to its business.

A sizeable portion of our trade and GDP is at risk from the post-Brexit barriers to trade. There is a good reason why countries have worked hard to bring down trade barriers over the last few decades and why so few have deliberately raised them. There are no opportunities from Brexit, only costs in the form of reduced economic growth.

3. Brexit is likely to hit Labour-voting areas hardest

The government’s EU Exit analysis published last March showed the North East and West Midlands taking the hardest hit, with London coming off relatively unscathed. Analysis by the Economic Statistics centre of Excellence at the end of last year suggests that this is already starting to happen. The economic gap between the north and south of England has widened since the EU referendum.

This is not surprising given that any increase in trade barriers after Brexit is likely to hit manufacturing hardest. A study by the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that process, plant and machine operative jobs are most at risk from Brexit.

In any case, an economic slowdown is always likely to hit those with the lowest resources, in terms of savings, income and job security, the hardest. Even if the impact of Brexit is felt fairly evenly across the income distribution, as some studies suggest, a real income loss of 4 percent has far worse consequences for those less well-off who spend a greater proportion of their income on food, energy and housing.

Labour voters are worried about Brexit

It is not surprising, therefore, that Labour areas have seen the biggest shifts in opinion against Brexit. As early as last summer there were signs that opinion in Labour areas was shifting, with some seats that had voted Leave now showing Remain majorities. There are signs that public opinion has shifted. According to most surveys, including the largest, the British Election Study (BES), around two-thirds of Labour voters voted Remain. A recent report by transport union TSSA now puts that figure at 76 percent. It warned that Labour could lose seats by failing to oppose Brexit.

This will come as no surprise to Manchester University’s Rob Ford who has been arguing for some time that losing Remain voters is far more dangerous for Labour than losing Leave voters.

If a seat voted 52% Leave, and it is a Con-Lab marginal, then it is very likely that a *large majority* of Lab votes in that seat will come from Remain supporters (and a large majority of Con votes from Leave supporters).

It should be, but never is, obvious that “appeal more to Leave voters” is not the only strategy for winning/holding such a seat, nor will it usually or necessarily be the best one.

If you lose even one Remainer for each two Leavers gained, you’re stuffed

Taking Remainers for granted would be unwise. The TSSA report contained this interesting observation:

Brexit energises Labour Remain voters far more than Labour Leave voters and this explains why Labour failing to oppose Brexit will have a far more significant impact on the Labour vote than if it actually opposes Brexit.

There is a big risk for Labour in being seen as the midwife of Brexit. There may be some in the party who hope that a catastrophic Brexit will be blamed on the Tories but this won’t wash with the voters. Younger voters, in particular, see Brexit as a Conservative project and associate it with austerity. They will be bitterly disappointed by anything less than a full-throated opposition.

4. Brexit is a Conservative project

Those young voters are right. The people who care about Brexit, those that really want it, are predominantly middle-class voters.

The Brexit vote is often depicted as a working-class revolt but as Danny Dorling says, according to Ashcroft polling data, ABC1 voters made up 59 percent of the Brexit vote – higher than their proportion of the general population. A majority of working class voters might have voted for Brexit but fewer of them turned out. It was the middle-class voters who made it happen.

Working class people were much more likely not to vote, whereas middle-class people, particularly older middle-class people voted.

And your typical Leave voter was a conservative Tory voter who wasn’t rich but wasn’t particularly poor.

As IpsosMORI reports, it is these middle-class and middle-aged to elderly voters who see Brexit as the most important issue by some distance.

In contrast, as the TSSA report says, Labour Leave voters are less bothered. Many people voted Leave because they were, understandably, fed up with the degradation of their areas and the ongoing slide into insecurity. The referendum gave people a chance to upset the system and they took it. Now, though, it is not their greatest concern. As the TSSA report found:

Labour Leave voters are less concerned about Brexit than Leave voters generally and Labour Remain voters speci cally. Labour Leave voters are more concerned with bread and butter economic issues, austerity and cuts to welfare bene ts. Only 36% of Labour Leave voters list the UK leaving the EU as one of the top three issues facing themselves and their families, compared to 58% for Conservative Leave voters and 60% for Labour Remain voters.

As Jess Phillips remarked, nobody is coming into her constituency surgery and bending her ear about Brexit:

Many of her constituents have more pressing things to worry about.

5. Leave voters are no more left-wing than remain voters

The Remain cause is often disparaged as ‘centrist’ by some in the Labour Party, in an attempt to suggest that supporting Brexit is somehow more authentically left-wing. However, as Bristol University’s Paula Surridge found, BES data shows that, on economic questions, Labour Leave voters were no more left-wing than Labour Remain voters. The same is true of Conservative voters. It was social rather than economic conservatism, support for things like moral values and tougher sentences, that distinguished the Leave vote.

However, she also noted that the traditional left-right divide is still the strongest influence on general elections. This suggests that, given what we know about the concerns of Labour Leavers, the best way to appeal to them is with economically left-wing policies that will reverse the impact of insecurity and austerity, rather than a pitch to social conservatism, ground on the Tories or UKIP will always win.

6. The EU would not prevent Labour from implementing left-wing policies

One of the mainstays of the Lexit argument is that EU rules would prevent a left-wing government from implementing its policies, particularly on state aid.

However, as the IPPR pointed out in its report in January, EU rules allow plenty of scope for more state intervention and France and Germany already do a lot more of it than the UK.

Our analysis suggests that, contrary to claims that the EU seriously inhibits an active industrial policy, there is extensive scope for member states to pursue state aid measures. EU rules allow for the use of state aid for purposes ranging from regional development and environmental protection to R&D and SME nancing. Moreover, EU law is of cially neutral on the matter of state ownership and does not prevent nationalisation.

An analysis of Labour’s 2017 manifesto by two trade lawyers found nothing in EU law that would get in the way of any of the manifesto commitments. As barrister George Peretz concluded:

It would be a serious mistake to rule out single market membership, or any other deep trading arrangement with the EU, on the false basis that they are a major obstacle to a Labour government seeking to widen public ownership or support industrial development.

The EU’s state aid rules are designed to prevent the sort of pork-barrel politics where governments bribe large companies with tax breaks. They are not there to stop the nationalisation of railways or public utilities. It is possible for the UK to stay in the EU and to have a government that is a lot more left-wing than any it has had previously.

8. If Labour enables Brexit it is finished in Scotland

Much of the debate around Brexit takes place with an England-centred slant. Scotland, which voted clearly to Remain, is often forgotten. However, it will be extremely difficult for Labour to win a parliamentary majority without regaining many of the Scottish seats it lots to the SNP. The trouble is, if it fails to oppose Brexit it is likely to lose most of the ones it still has.

Labour is already losing members in Scotland and recent polls suggest a swing to the SNP that would see Labour losses while leaving the Tory seats in Scotland intact. This loss of Labour support would, of course, be permanent if Brexit were to lead to Scottish independence but even without it, the sense that Labour facilitated Brexit is likely to alienate voters and keep Labour from an overall majority for a generation.

9. Free Movement – it’s about rights, not numbers

The term ‘Free Movement’ is open to misunderstanding and therefore exploitation by the unscrupulous. It is not about the freedom to travel, it is about the freedom to work somewhere with equal rights to local workers. If we accept that a modern economy will always have a certain level of immigration (and when compared to many others the UK’s isn’t that high) ask yourself this:

Who is least likely to demand a pay rise? Who is least likely to join a trade union? Who is least likely to make a fuss if managers suddenly change working patterns? A worker who has the same rights as the local staff, who can walk out and get another job or claim unfair dismissal, or a worker whose very right to be in the country is dependent on the job and the employer?

By opposing ‘Free Movement’, right-wing politicians can appeal to anti-immigrant sentiment without actually opposing immigration. Arch-Brexiter John Redwood let the cat out of the bag in his now infamous ‘take your money out of the UK’ article. Here is what he said about immigration:

As firms use up all the available easy-to-employ labour, they simply bring in large numbers of people from overseas from places where unemployment remains very high, or where wages remain low.

Right-wing politicians of the free-market variety are not against immigration. What they don’t like, though, is immigrants with rights. After Brexit, workers from the rest of Europe will still come to the UK, only now they will be on less favourable terms than local workers. It doesn’t take too much thought to see who is most likely to benefit from that.

10. Sovereignty – big is beautiful

Much has been made of the sovereignty argument for Brexit but leaving the EU is lily to diminish the UK’s sovereignty rather than enhance it. As the trade experts keep telling us, the world is dividing into trading blocs, each with its own regulatory regime. The only countries that negotiate with the EU on an equal footing are China and the USA. As the FT’s Robert Shrimsley put it:

The world is organising into trading blocs and that to be a mid-sized country outside one is to get the chlorinated end of the chicken.

At the moment, the UK is one of the countries that sets the rules. Outside the EU, it will be one of the countries that has to abide by someone else’s rules. The US has made it quite clear that the UK will have to accept its standards on food and pharmaceuticals if it wants a trade deal. To get an idea of what being in the US trade orbit is like even for a large economy, just ask the Canadians.

Being part of the EU is also essential if we are going to stand up to large multinational corporations. The power of these global behemoths can only be checked by governments acting together. The financial crisis of 2007-08 illustrates the problem. The USA managed to make a profit on its bank bailout in a way that smaller countries couldn’t. This is purely a question of size. In America, the government bullied the banks, forcing them all to participate the rescue scheme for their sector. European countries, acting alone, didn’t have the same leverage.

In the Washington Post last week, Anne Applebaum remarked on the UK’s powerlessness in the face of monied elites and concluded:

The E.U. is probably the only power in Europe — maybe even the only one in the world — with the regulatory strength to change the culture of tax avoidance. And since 2016, it has been slowly enacting rules designed to do exactly that. Britain, once it leaves the E.U., may well be exempt.

British industry might suffer after Brexit, and British power will be reduced. But the gray zone — where politics meets money, where foreign money can become domestic, where assets can be hidden and connections concealed — will survive. Perhaps that was the point all along.

If we are to have any hope of curbing the power of big corporations and tax avoiding billionaires, we can only do so as part of a larger bloc. It’s no wonder, then, that rich men want us to leave.

The paper sovereignty gained by Brexit will be worthless when it comes to a face off against large trading blocs and powerful financial interests. Real sovereignty is simply a function of power and that is what we are throwing away when we leave the EU.

11. The mandate for Brexit is weak

To do something as drastic as undoing 45 years of foreign and trade policy ought to require a much clearer mandate than 37.4 percent of the electorate.

Under the government’s most recent trade union law, to organise industrial action affecting public services, a union needs the support of at least 40 percent of those entitled to vote. Anything less would see the action declared illegal in the courts. As employment lawyer Darren Newman pointed out, 37.4 percent would not give sufficient democratic legitimacy to justify a work-to-rule on the London Underground. How, then, can it be enough to bring about the greatest change to the UK’s foreign relationships since the Second World War?

12. Voters are entitled to be asked “Are you sure?”

Given the narrowness of the vote and the fact that there has been a lot more public discussion since the referendum than there was before it, it is only fair to ask people to confirm their decision.

Some 2 million new voters have joined the electorate since the referendum and most of them want the chance to vote on Brexit. Others have changed their minds. Things have moved on since the narrow vote two years ago. We don’t know what the Will of the People is on Brexit now. The only way to find out is to ask again.

You can’t even delete a file on your computer without being asked whether you are sure. It is crazy to take such a momentous decision for the country without checking that this is what people really want.  At the very least there should be failsafe that says ‘are you really sure you want to do this?’


A few days after the referendum, Resolution Foundation boss David Willetts remarked that Brexit was the vote of the excluded and the insulated. The insulated will be fine. These are the middle-aged to elderly shire Tories who really want Brexit; the people who have been banging on about it for years. The excluded, though, will get the rough end of it, as ever.

Labour has much more to lose from a disastrous Brexit than the Conservatives. Most of its members are against it and most of the people it represents will suffer disproportionately from the fallout.

For the past two years, many Labour MPs have been worried that opposing Brexit would see them punished at the ballot box by working class voters committed to Brexit. But the extent  of working class Brexit support has been overhyped and there are strong signs that  ground is now starting to shift. Furthermore, even among Labour’s Leave voters, the commitment to Brexit is nowhere near as strong as it is among Conservative voters.

Labour voters are more likely to punish their MPs for allowing an unnecessary job-destroying catastrophe. For Labour MPs it is less of a risk to campaign against Brexit than it is to blindly plough on with it because they think it’s what their supporters want. Brexit is not and never was Labour’s project. It has its roots in conservative middle England and it will be severely damaging for most Labour voters. Labour should put all its energy and resources into opposing Brexit before it damages both the party and the country beyond repair.

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Brexit: Where do we go from here?

Another day, another ‘no breakthrough on the backstop‘ story. At the eleventh hour, a dose of reality seems to be setting in over the question of the Northern Ireland Brexit backstop. The DUP’s leader admitted that the backstop isn’t a backstop if it is time limited. The EU has been saying this for months and there are signs that the government has accepted it too, even if it doesn’t want to say so in public.

Where does that leave us? Pretty much where we were in December 2017. The government made incompatible promises and something had to give. Backbenchers, think tanks and, to their shame, some government ministers have come up with all sorts of suggestions as to how the UK could be outside the Single Market and Customs Union without needing border checks. All have been shot down by trade experts but, like post-nuclear cockroaches, still refuse to die. As former UK government trade expert David Henig remarked:

There is something infantile about all this. It’s like children who know they have to tidy their rooms but come out with all sorts of bizarre excuses as to why they can’t do it just yet.  The government’s indulgence of this petulant behaviour has wasted valuable time and demeaned the UK in the eyes of the world. Had it acknowledged the reality of its position early on, it might have had a more productive discussion with the EU.

For the simple fact is that there are no unpoliced trade borders anywhere in the world. The only place where goods move freely across borders is within the EU, thanks to the joint operation of the Single Market and Customs Union. As soon as a country is outside either one, there must be border checks.

Therefore, to avoid a land border in Ireland, the backstop aims to keep Northern Ireland within the EU’s legal framework, regardless of what trade relationship is eventually agreed between the EU and the UK. It keeps Northern Ireland in a customs union with the EU and in the single market for the purposes of goods trade. It is a similar arrangement to that which Jersey and the Isle of Man currently have with the EU.

The only major change between now and this time last year is that the backstop now keeps the rest of the UK in a customs union with the EU too. An important point, which sometimes gets lost in the debate, is that the Northern Ireland backstop and the backstop for the rest of the UK are different. One is a subset of the other, as this chart by William Bain explains. The backstop would therefore avoid a customs border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland but there would still be a regulatory border. In the absence of any other agreement, Northern Ireland stays more integrated with the EU than the rest of the UK.

It is extremely unlikely that this, or any other major element of the Withdrawal Agreement, will change. The idea that, if we only negotiate harder, the EU will cave in, is fanciful. As former Australian trade negotiator Dmitry Grozoubinski pointed out in a recent Twitter thread, there appears to be very little political pressure on politicians in the EU to change their stance.

Are there any signs of disunity within the EU? Are there any signs of popular dissent? Where are the demonstrations saying ‘Be nice to the Brits’ or ‘Avoid the Horror of No Deal’? Are newspaper op-eds calling for a softer stance? Have any EU opposition politicians decided they can make political capital by making an issue of Brexit?

The answer to all these questions is ‘no’ or ‘not very much’. Outside Ireland, there is very little discussion of Brexit in the rest of the EU. People seem fairly relaxed about it. Many are sad about the UK’s departure but they don’t see it as enough of a problem to make an issue of it with their politicians. Why, then, do we assume that the EU’s negotiators will capitulate at the last-minute when there is no significant political pressure on them to do so?

None of this is likely to be much different after an extension to Article 50. There might be some tweaks to the Withdrawal Agreement but the backstop will stay. Whether it takes the decision now or a few months from now, the UK therefore has the same three options: agree the Withdrawal Agreement and proceed to the next stage of the negotiations, withdraw Article 50 and stay in the EU or leave with no deal.

Once Parliament passes the Withdrawal Agreement the government then has to make some decisions about what sort of relationship it wants with the EU. The Withdrawal Agreement will not settle the question of Northern Ireland and its importance to the Brexit process. In fact, the decision on how far we are prepared to see Northern Ireland’s relationship with the EU diverge from that of the rest of the UK is crucial to the next stage of the negotiations. Until we are clear about that, we can’t go much further.

The only ways to exit the backstop will be either for the entire UK to stay in a customs union and close regulatory alignment on goods, which would probably mean staying in the single market, or to accept that Northern Ireland will have a different relationship with the EU. The Brexit options we spent so much time discussing immediately after the referendum, such as a Canada-style free trade agreement or a closer relationship like Switzerland’s or Ukraine’s, only become possible by leaving Northern Ireland effectively within the EU. Is leaving the EU’s institutions and the freedom to do trade deals more important than keeping the whole of the UK in a single relationship with the EU? Opinions will differ but it’s a conversation we haven’t really had. If anyone thinks that the trouble and strife of Brexit will disappear after the Withdrawal Agreement, I have news for you. It won’t. We still haven’t discussed, let alone answered, major questions about the future shape of this country and its place in the world.

That said, we can begin to see what the likely choices will be.

There are only four all-UK options:

  1. Stay in the EU.
  2. The Venezuela Option – Quitting with no deal would leave us with a similar relationship to the EU as that of Venezuela.  Apart from those countries not under some sort of EU sanctions, it is the only country that has no trading agreements with the EU. Having severed its relationships with the Andean Community and Mercosur, it also has acrimonious relationships with its near neighbours. As a proxy for a No Deal Brexit, then, Venezuela is as close as you can get.
  3. The EU-Minus Option – a customs union and staying in the Single Market. This is sometimes called the Norway-Plus Option, as it implies the relationship Norway currently has, plus a customs union. That makes it sound quite good when really it isn’t. It is, essentially, staying in the EU but with no real say over subsequent rules and trade deals. The EU’s rules on the free movement of people would still apply. I thought about calling it the ‘Why Bother Option’ but ‘EU-Minus’ pretty much sums it up. (HT to Dmitry Grozoubinski for that one.) However unsatisfactory it looks, if we don’t want different arrangements for Northern Ireland, this is probably where we will end up.
  4. The Jersey Option – a customs union and staying in the single market for goods. This would be similar to the arrangement the Crown Dependencies have with the EU and the one the backstop proposes for Northern Ireland. It was first suggested by Sam Lowe and John Springford at the Centre for European Reform. Other advocates include Martin Sandbu in the FT, Alasdair Smith of Sussex University and former European Commission economic adviser Philippe Legrain. This all depends, though, on whether the EU is prepared to split the Single Market between goods and services for the whole UK. So far, the signs haven’t been encouraging.

The Jersey Option is the furthest out the UK can go from the EU without separate arrangements for Northern Ireland being necessary. Given the backstop, Options 3 and 4 are the only ones available to Northern Ireland once the Withdrawal Agreement is signed.

The subsequent options, then, are for Great Britain only:

  1. The Turkey Plus Option – This is the default option under the Withdrawal Agreement. If no subsequent deal is done, this is where we end up. It would be a customs union only agreement but a better than the one Turkey currently has.
  2. The Norway Option – staying in the Single Market but outside a customs union. Would mean continuing free movement.
  3. The Swiss Option – a series of bespoke deals. Unlikely because the EU doesn’t like Switzerland’s  current arrangement and would probably not want to replicate it anywhere else. Anyone still advocating this model should read Ciaran the Euro Courier who regularly tweets about his nightmares at the Swiss border. Furthermore, like the Norway Option, it would mean keeping free movement which is one of the government’s reddest lines.
  4. The Ukraine Option – a Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area similar to the Ukraine’s arrangement. This would still leave the UK subject to some ECJ jurisdiction so it is likely to be unacceptable to Brexit hardliners.
  5. The Canada Option – the free trade agreement that most Brexiters seem to want.

The outcome of the Brexit negotiation is likely to be similar to one of these models. It may not be exactly the same but it will be close. The decision tree looks something like this.


These decisions, though, are about more than just trade. If Northern Ireland is left permanently in a different relationship with the EU, that will upset a lot of people on the Unionist side, and not just those in the DUP. They worry that handing over some jurisdiction over Northern Ireland, no matter how small, will be the first step to its complete separation from the UK. It is early days yet but might people come to see the logical conclusion of such an arrangement as a united Ireland? Might Scotland, with its Remain majority, ask for a similar deal? Could this be the thin end of a wedge which eventually breaks up not just the United Kingdom but Great Britain too?

The implications of these questions have been barely discussed because the government has been trying to pretend that border checks are not an issue and that the post-Brexit future will be an all-UK one. If that is to be, though, the options are very limited.

So while we are ostensibly talking about trade, we will actually be making decisions about the future size and shape of the UK. Whatever path we take there will be risks and trade offs. As Fintan O’Toole said, Brexit is Britain’s reckoning with itself. It may even force us to decide whether we still want to be a United Kingdom at all. We should have been having these discussions over the past three years. Instead we have been throwing tantrums and pretending the questions will somehow go away. As the cold light of Brexit dawns, the dreams and fairy tales will disappear. There aren’t any unicorns coming to the rescue. We have some hard decisions to make.

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Do people want a new centrist party?

Seven Labour MPs have resigned the party whip. It’s not clear what they plan to do next but many commentators assume that the formation of a new centrist party will be the eventual outcome

Is there a market for a new centrist party though? Nick Barlow thinks not. He wrote a piece on ‘the centrist fallacy’ last year in which he looked at data from the British Election Survey. He found that most people think their own political views are in the centre ground even when they are not. So lots of people might say they would support a centrist party but wouldn’t actually like its policies when it came to an election. He also found that, based on the questions in the BES, the electorate skews to the left on economic issues and to the right on social issues.

The FT’s John Burn-Murdoch plotted the same data on a single chart last year, which clearly shows a lump of voters in the top left hand corner – socially conservative and economically left-wing.


As a sense check on this, other studies using different questions from the BES have given similar results. A YouGov survey in 2015 found majority support for economically left-wing and socially right-wing policies.

A study by Populus for the Legatum Institute gave a similar picture, with majority socially conservative attitudes coupled with an antipathy to free-market capitalism that the survey’s sponsors found somewhat disheartening.

In this sense, politics has been out of step with the voters for some time. The general direction of policy has seen a shift from top left to bottom right. It has shifted to the right economically and to the left on social issues. Think of the state in postwar Britain. It was very much top left. It flogged and executed criminals, forced men into the army and punished people for being gay. It also nationalised entire industries, built social housing, set up a free health service and provided free milk and orange juice for children. Today’s state looks very different. It doesn’t flog people any more but it’s flogged off a lot of what it once used to run.

As David Goodhart said, the liberal wings of both political traditions triumphed over the last thirty years:

What if a lot of people feel that there’s no point in voting because whoever you vote for you get the same old mix of economic liberalism and social liberalism – Margaret Thatcher tempered by Roy Jenkins.

The two liberalisms – the 1960s (social) and 1980s (economic) – have dominated politics for a generation.

Or, as American political scientist Alan Wolfe put it:

The right won the economic war, the left won the cultural war.

Looking at where the UK public is, though, a lot of people may wish it had been the other way around, or at least that the victories had not been quite so complete.

As you might expect, politicians fall closer to their party position than many of the voters. Jon Mellon and Chris Prosser from the BES team found that parliamentary candidates from the Labour Party fell into the bottom left quadrant, economically left and socially liberal, while the Conservative candidates clustered towards the top right quadrant, economically right and socially conservative. This pattern is pretty much consistent over several elections.

If there is a politically vacant space, then, it is in that top left hand box. Politics and politicians have taken policy in a direction that many of these voters don’t like. The Conservative Party successfully appealed to them on the basis of socially conservative rhetoric, even though the party’s main thrust was economic. It still comes as a surprise to many people when you tell them that Margaret Thatcher abolished corporal punishment in schools, in between privatising stuff and busting the unions. The Labour Party appealed to the top left with socialist rhetoric, even as it left much in place from the Thatcher/Major years and enthusiastically embraced PFI.

Eventually people started to notice but the two-party system and the utter ineptitude of parties like the BNP that tried to appeal to top left voters ensured that any electoral threat was kept under control until the lid blew off in the EU referendum.

So might the aftermath of the EU referendum completely realign politics? Are we all Leavers or Remainers now?

Well it’s probably a bit more complicated than that.

Paula Surridge has looked at the BES data in the context of the Brexit vote. I have plotted her results on a grid, similar to the one John Burn Murdoch did. (I have used ‘socially conservative’ and ‘socially liberal’ rather than authoritarian and libertarian as I think these terms express the divide more clearly.)

A two-dimensional view of UK political attitudes

Over the last 25 years, the political centre of gravity has shifted slightly to the economic left and the socially liberal but the overall skew is still towards the left on economic issues and to the conservative on social issues.

The most striking finding, though, is that among Tory and Labour voters there was very little difference in attitudes on economic issues between voters supporting the same political party. Labour Leave voters are no more left-wing than Labour Remain voters. Conservative Leave voters are no more right-wing than Conservative Remain voters. The differentiator in the EU referendum was the cultural/social attitudes. The socially conservative tended to vote Leave while the socially liberal were more likely to vote Remain. Eric Kaufman’s research found similar results.

The assumption that support for Remain is a ‘centrist’ attitude may be somewhat flawed. There are many on the left who are opposed to leaving the EU, such as Clive Lewis, who resigned from the front bench to oppose Article 50. The emergence of Another Europe, which sprang from the Remain wing of Momentum, and the number of anti-Brexit resolutions from Labour constituencies shows that charges of ‘Blairism’ against Labour Remainers are way wide of the mark. Would Brexit on its own be enough to make people switch their support to a new party? In two-party Britain with its tribal allegiances, any new party needs a massive momentum if it is to have a hope of breaking the mold. It is unlikely that many Labour members and voters will see a new party as the answer.

This also raises questions for the strategies of the two main parties. At the last election, the Conservatives made a pitch for socially conservative working-class voters. Though its author is now much derided, the Erdington strategy did have some success, with some long-standing Labour seats like Mansfield going Tory.

Labour cannot hope to compete on social conservatism. Its activists wouldn’t wear it and the voters probably wouldn’t believe it. There is, however, some comfort for Labour in Paula Surridge’s research. She notes that the socially conservative/liberal divide is likely to modify previous political allegiances but also:

When political emphasis is placed on a traditional left-right divide, as in the 2017 general election, then voters’ positions on this divide are much more closely related to their behaviour.

In other words, the left-right divide is not dead yet. Major on the economic stuff and at least some voters will worry less about the cultural issues. Labour’s best defence against the Erdington strategy may therefore be to appeal to the voters in the top left box with economically left-wing policies.

But that still leaves the looming Brexit question. Is opposition to Brexit enough to attract voters to a new party? A recent survey by the transport union TSSA noted that Brexit is a much more important issue for Labour’s Remain voters for than its Leave voters:

Brexit energises Labour Remain voters far more than Labour Leave voters and this explains why Labour failing to oppose Brexit will have a far more significant impact on the Labour vote than if it actually opposes Brexit.

It found that support for Remain has increased among Labour voters from around two-thirds at the referendum to three-quarters now.

All of which suggests that a clearer Remain stance coupled with left-wing policies might just pull off a majority for Labour. It would keep the Remainers on side and get back enough of the voters in the top left box. Another Europe’s slogan, “Love Socialism, Hate Brexit” might be the way to go.

If that doesn’t happen, though, which it probably won’t, is Brexit alone enough to attract disaffected Labour and Tory voters to a new party? For the moment, we don’t know what the Labour rebels are planning (if they have a plan at all) or whether any Tories will join them. If they do form a new party, though, we will find out whether and how far Brexit has re-drawn our political map. At the moment their chances of success look slim. All the same, so many crazy things have happened over the last three years that I wouldn’t want to bet my house on it.


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A tale of two constituencies

Owen Paterson, MP for North Shropshire, claimed that his constituents were telling him they we’re frustrated by the lack of progress on Brexit. Jess Phillips, MP for Birmingham Yardley, thought that was a bit odd. “I’m in a leave seat and my constituents never ever say this stuff,” she said. “Where is he hearing these opinions?” She reckoned he and his fellow Tory MPs were making it all up.

They might not be though. It is quite likely that they are both right. A quick glance at the two constituencies shows that they are very different places. Both are estimated to have had a Leave vote of around 60 percent but there the similarity ends. North Shropshire and Birmingham Yardley sit either side of the UK average on a number of measures.

Comparing Birmingham Yardley and North Shropshire (all figures percentages)

Source: House of Commons Library

Birmingham Yardley is the 21st most deprived constituency in England while North Shropshire is 315th. In general, North Shropshire’s population is older, whiter, more financially secure and more middle-class than that of Birmingham Yardley. According to constituency profiles developed by Electoral Calculus, North Shropshire is likely to be more economically right-wing than the rest of the UK, while Birmingham Yardley is a similar number of degrees to the left.

The Brexit vote is often depicted as a working-class revolt but as Danny Dorling says, according to Ashcroft polling data, ABC1 voters made up 59 percent of the Brexit vote – higher than their proportion of the general population. A majority of working class voters might have voted for Brexit but fewer of them turned out. It was the middle-class voters who made it happen.

Working class people were much more likely not to vote, whereas middle-class people, particularly older middle-class people voted.

And your typical Leave voter was a conservative Tory voter who wasn’t rich but wasn’t particularly poor.

So your typical Leave voter was very much like the typical voter in North Shropshire.

The people who want Brexit, I mean really want it, tend to be middle-class and middle-aged to elderly. As IpsosMORI consistently reports, it is these voters who see it as the most important issue.

Owen Paterson and Jess Phillips are probably both right. North Shropshire is just the sort of place where people are likely to bend their MP’s ear about Brexit. And Birmingham Yardley isn’t.

It is perhaps not surprising, then, that it is Labour seats which are seeing a shift in opinion against Brexit. Some of this is because people who have turned 18 since the referendum are predominantly Labour and Remain supporters and are helping to shift the balance. But many working class voters were never as personally invested in the idea of Brexit in the first place. They are also the ones likely to suffer most from the economic consequences. Birmingham Yardley has seen the 8th highest swing to Remain. Based on these figures, the constituency would probably now vote narrowly to stay in the EU.

But think what might happen in a place like Birmingham Yardley if the political party with which most voters identify were to campaign wholeheartedly against Brexit and the havoc it will wreak on working class areas. With some clear leadership, the trickle of support away from Brexit in Labour areas would become a flood. Jess Phillips came to a similar conclusion a few days ago:

Labour voters are starting to realise that Brexit will be bad for them. Really bad. Until now, many Labour MPs have been worried that opposing Brexit would see them punished at the ballot box by hordes of angry working class Brexit voters. But working class Brexit support has been overhyped and the ground is now starting to shift. Working class voters are far more likely to punish their MPs for allowing an unnecessary job-destroying catastrophe. For Labour MPs it is less of a risk to campaign against Brexit than it is to blindly plough on with it because they think it’s what their supporters want. Brexit is not Labour’s project. It is the fantasy of conservative middle England. It will be severely damaging for most Labour voters. The party should put all its energy into stopping it.

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Brexit as a bad career move

Among those shouting loudest about EU bullying and punishment are people who also claim to be advocates of the free market. This strikes me as slightly odd because Brexit is, effectively, the UK market-testing its power and prestige in the world. Those who took us down this road assured us that the UK was such a powerful player that leaving the world’s largest trade bloc would actually make us better off. We would get the exact same benefits, other countries would be desperate for trade deals with us and the EU, terrified by the loss of one of its biggest members, would fall over itself to conclude the easiest trade deal in history.

Two years later, things are looking a little different. As a series of reports out this week show, all the Brexit options are likely to leave the UK worse off than if it had stayed in the EU. The most revealing part of the Treasury’s Brexit analysis is how little difference new trade agreements are likely to make to the UK’s GDP after Brexit. Even with generous assumptions about who we will do trade deals with (see footnotes on Page 22.) the impact is a tiny 0.2 precent of GDP, nowhere near enough to offset the losses from increase trade friction with the EU.

All Brexit scenarios are bad and the further away we move from the single market and customs union the worse they get. It looks like the world out there is tougher than the Brexiters led us to believe.

All this talk of it not being fair or the EU acting like the Nazis and punishing us for leaving reminds me is the kind of petulance you hear from the bloke who walks out of his job and then fails to get the better one to which he had assumed he was entitled.

I have known a few such people over the years. Very occasionally they are right but most of the time they get a huge shock. What they fail to realise is that a proportion of their salary is a function of their place in the corporate system. If they have worked in the same company for a while, their progression is based, in part, on their knowledge of that company and their ability to work within it. Likewise, the way they are treated by others is based on their employment status. The fact that they get appointments, sit in the fist class lounge and everybody wants to talk to them at conferences isn’t because they are ‘just bloody good’ it’s because of who they work for. This often comes as a shock to those who go freelance. As a senior executive in PoshBigCo plc, everyone wants to know you. As MD of MeAndAFewMates Ltd, it’s a lot more difficult.

So, more often than not, our overconfident executive finds it more difficult to get higher-paying work in the outside world than he imagined. Not that he is discouraged. You’ll hear him sounding off in the pub about all the ‘idiots’ who are making ‘silly offers’. “I’m worth much more than that,” he rants. “I know what I’m worth and I’m holding out for it.”

The UK’s exercise in testing the market has revealed that our worth, too, is a lot more tied up with the organisation we were part of than we cared to admit. Other trading partners prioritise deals with the EU. Even the commonwealth countries are more interested in building trade relationships with the EU than with the UK. They would, of course. It’s much bigger. To be fair, they did warn us that we would lose influence if we left the EU but we chose to ignore them. It is true that the UK is still one of the major economies in the world but much of its prestige and influence now rests on the fact that it sits at the intersection between the western military alliance, the anglophone world and the EU. Jettisoning one of those key components makes us less interesting to people.

To stretch the jobseeker analogy, all the offers so far have turned out to be worse than his old job. All pay less and have less security and benefits than the one he has just walked out of. The best offer so far is to go back to his old employer as a contractor, only on slightly less money than he was on before and without a seat on the executive team. Worse still, there’s a serious risk he might end up having to take orders from people he once considered to be junior.

It’s been some time now since he handed in his notice and he really needs to get something sorted out soon. Curiously enough, his old company have kept his job open. He can go back any time, with all his pay and benefits and his seat at the top table. But he won’t because that would make him look a bit silly. He’s still there at the bar, insisting that all he needs is a bit of self-belief and some tougher negotiation and that elusive great deal will soon come his way. His friends roll their eyes, shrug their shoulders and walk away.

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