Cable: May allowing Brexit extremists to neuter any chance of acceptable deal for UK

Vince Cable had this to say  about Theresa May’s speech:

Theresa May has once again prevaricated from making serious decisions about our future. Her speech outlined all the reasons why we should stay in the single market and customs union, but she will carry on regardless, driving us out to placate brexiters in the cabinet.

May’s diminished authority is allowing Brexit extremists to neuter any chance she has at getting an acceptable deal for the UK.

With a listless government beholden to hard-line Tories the only way to protect our future is ensure a referendum on the final deal. Surely, If May believes in her strategy, she would happily take it to the country.

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  • The PM’s speech set out five tests:
    First, the agreement we reach with the EU must respect the referendum.
    Second, the new agreement we reach with the EU must endure.
    Third, it must protect people’s jobs and security.
    Fourth, it must be consistent with the kind of country we want to be as we leave: a modern, open, outward-looking, tolerant, European democracy.
    And fifth, in doing all of these things, it must strengthen our union of nations and our union of people.

    I am reminded of Gordon Brown’s five economic tests for joining the Euro:
    The five tests were as follows:

    1. Are business cycles and economic structures compatible so that we and others could live comfortably with euro interest rates on a permanent basis?
    2. If problems emerge is there sufficient flexibility to deal with them?
    3. Would joining EMU create better conditions for firms making long-term decisions to invest in Britain?
    4. What impact would entry into EMU have on the competitive position of the UK’s financial services industry, particularly the City’s wholesale markets?
    5. In summary, will joining EMU promote higher growth, stability and a lasting increase in jobs?

    Unanswerable questions in both cases – the only way to know is in the light of subsequent experience.

    If Parliamentarians don’t or can’t know in advance then it is best put to a referendum of the voting public at large.

  • David Allen 2nd Mar '18 - 4:29pm

    The bullshit test – Does the opposite of a proposition represent a viable alternative? If it doesn’t, then the proposition is bullshit. Here goes, Theresa:

    First, the agreement we reach with the EU could ignore the referendum.
    Second, the new agreement we reach with the EU need not endure.
    Third, it should not protect people’s jobs and security.
    Fourth, it must be inconsistent with the kind of country we want to be.
    And fifth, it must weaken our union of nations and our union of people.

  • Paul Kennedy 2nd Mar '18 - 4:45pm

    It seems to me that the Conservatives’ Brexit plans fail all 5 tests:
    1. Brexit completely ignores the wishes of the 48.1% of the population who voted Remain and fails to address the underlying concerns of those who voted Leave.
    2. Brexit seems to change from day to day.
    3. Brexit will harm our jobs and security.
    4. Brexit is inconsistent with Britain being a modern, open, tolerant outward-looking European democracy.
    5. Brexit will weaken the union by alienating the majorities in Scotland, Northern Ireland and our major cities which voted to Remain, and puts the Good Friday Agreement at risk.

  • John Roffey 2nd Mar '18 - 5:28pm

    A letter to the Telegraph:

    SIR – As the military strategist Sun Tzu pointed out centuries ago, the best way to win a battle is for the enemy to decide not to fight because he believes that you are too strong. Conversely the best way to lose is to appear weak.

    Theresa May seems intent on proving Sun Tzu’s views correct. At every turn in these Brexit negotiations she has appeared weak and undecided, inviting all and sundry in the EU to take pot shots at the United Kingdom.

    We never respond in strength and lose every negotiating battle, fighting from the back foot. We have many strengths but Mrs May won’t use them.

    Our security assets are vital to many EU countries. The City is also vital to many of the countries, which would suffer if they had to rely on Frankfurt or Paris. We have a very important market for EU goods; we can impose tariffs as well as the EU.

    Equally, Ireland will pay a heavy price if we leave with a poor agreement or none.

    Let us show our strengths and be prepared to use them. As Sun Tzu also pointed out, an equitable negotiated agreement is always better than battle.

  • David Allen’s bullshit test is very helpful in helping us understand our sadness and why we feel ashamed and embarrassed as we listen to the current UK Prime Minister. This is a leader pretending to be serious and the banality hurts and demeans the body politic.

  • John Roffey 3rd Mar '18 - 7:38am

    I expect that this – or something similar has been posted on LDV before – let’s hope that stoicism remains a national characteristic! The long and tortuous road ahead:

    Parliament and the Brexit deal – If Parliament votes, what does it vote on?

    The Brexit negotiations will not be over just one deal, but two. One negotiation will be to secure a withdrawal agreement, i.e. the terms of the divorce, or “exit deal”.

    The other negotiation will be to secure an agreement on the future UK-EU relationship – the “new deal” – or some framework for that relationship. The Government says it intends to pursue a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the EU. As we have explained, this is likely to take longer than two years, so the new deal on the table in 2019 is likely to be a more skeletal agreement.

    There are questions over Parliament’s role in approving both.

    It is also possible that the Government will be unable to secure a withdrawal agreement within the two-year timeframe set out in Article 50, meaning there will be “no deal”. If at the end of those two years, no withdrawal agreement has been reached, and the other member states do not unanimously agree to extend the negotiating period, then the UK leaves the EU anyway. There are also questions over what parliamentary consent would be needed, legally and politically, before the Government could walk out of withdrawal negotiations without an agreement.

    There are therefore three distinct parliamentary votes under discussion: an exit deal vote, a new deal vote, and a no deal vote.

    What has the Government already promised?

    When the exit bill was being debated in the House of Commons, David Jones, Minister of State in the Department for Exiting the European Union at the time, confirmed that the Government had “made a commitment to a vote at the end of the procedure.”

    The Minister outlined a number of important features of that vote. He said the Government intends that:


  • Arnold Kiel 3rd Mar '18 - 8:31am

    May’s “tests” were just a repetition of her wishes. The few new specifics she provided will not make them reality. At best, one could say that she has now acknowledged some of the contradictions inherent in her plan, but without resolving any of them.

    It helps to look at John Roffey’s sequence of events in reverse, and start with the final outcome under the assumption that May gets her way:

    A most complex in/out pachwork trying to bridge all conflicts by partial “associate-agency-membership” synthetic ECJ/UK-courts-supervision, various regulatory baskets, mutual recognition regimes, electronic/selective border controls etc. etc. After having negotiated, signed, and ratified all this, and peak-Corbyn (then 72 years old) a distant memory, an emboldened Tory party will win reelection. Does anybody believe the victorious Tory Brexiters will uphold this delicate, overcomplex, unexplicable, and unenforceable construct which would require much more goodwill on both sides than the current clear separation of Brussels/Westminster prerogatives?

    Its deliberate destruction would start May 6, 2022, and will retrospectively be named the dirty Brexit.

    The EU knows this, and remainers must not be fooled by this deliberate strategy to blow up the complexity of the negotiations so much that no clarity whatsoever can emerge by March 2019, the date of no return.

  • May repeated her ‘red lines’ (on customs union, trade and immigration) and then finished with, “Let’s get on with it”, as if the last 20 months hadn’t happened…
    A ‘Brexiteer’ friend, who had obviously listened to a different speech than I, told me how she had explained how,, “Nothing is impossible…
    My retort about how ‘touching my left elbow with my left hand’ has always proved a problem for me was not appreciated…

  • Barnaby, who is “we”. You seem to be speaking for yourself. I also don’t know who you are having a go at. Vince Cable? You mention reality and that is your best point because the reason so many people talk about Brexit is the reality of it which is turning out to be completely different from the rhetoric.

  • John Marriott 3rd Mar '18 - 11:08am

    OK. It it’s April 2019 and we’re out. It reminds me somewhat of the position in 1956 when, faced with the nationalisation of the Suez Canal, the UK and France decided to ‘go It alone’, with, as we now know, the support of Israel. And look what happened? Eisenhower more or less read the riot act to us and we backed off. Not only did this add a few nails to our coffin as a ‘world power’, it could be argued that it took the spotlight off what happened in Hungary a few months later.

    With the exception of the Falklands War (which had the tacit approval of the US) Britain had started to accept its role as a reliable ally/partner (sometimes, in the case of the Iraq war, perhaps too reliable). Could this also be true in economic terms as well? Will it take an economic ‘Suez’ for us to realise that this is how the world works in the 21st century?

  • Arnold Kiel 3rd Mar '18 - 12:35pm


    I would never claim to have sufficient “understanding of the British psyche”. I am just applying my basic understanding of human nature: a man always fights harder for his interests than for his rights.

    I therefore dispute your underlying thesis that the widespread dislike for European integration is genuine and autonomous, and trumps any wish for better economic prospects. The EU was dishonestly sold as the cause of almost every misery. If every leaver understood that Brexit will cost him, or his friends or family, the leave-majority would disappear. This is what I profoundly believe.

    I am saying this on the basis of a dawning understanding how extremely monetized and preponderantly precarious British life is today. There are millions whose daily struggle to get by leaves them without time or energy to consult their psyche on abstract and complex questions of supranational governance. They just need to keep their job, a decent income, sufficient social support, healthcare, and some prospect for their children. None of that matters to you superb interpreters of your “national psyche” and your political leaders.

  • Peter Martin 3rd Mar '18 - 2:05pm

    @ Arnold Kiel,

    “a man always fights harder for his interests than for his rights.”

    If that’s your “basic understanding” then, as often, you’re wrong. The operative word is “always”. When faced with a perceived injustice it’s usually in our “interests” to say nothing and keep our heads down. That doesn’t involve any fighting at all. It’s the ones who protest who are more likely to feel the force of a police officer’s baton! Some do say nothing but others risk speaking out. Sometimes most risk speaking out. Probably the opinion in my local pub isn’t too unrepresentative. Most of the time we’ve better things to talk about than the EU, like football, but just occasionally the subject turns political and no-one, even those who voted to stay, ever suggests that we should kowtow to the EU in an attempt to save our economic skins. The mood generally is one of defiance.

    Barbaby’s comment that “Brexit is the inevitable result of that abuse of our democracy” is nearer the mark. The vast majority of even those who voted to Remain in the EU don’t really want to be full members in the same way as France and Germany are full members. They don’t want Schengen and they don’t want the euro.

    So we really are different. Maybe you think that’s a bad thing! You can think what you like, there’s no chance of the “unconditional surrender” you’ve previously demanded!

  • William Fowler 3rd Mar '18 - 2:10pm

    Only Tony Blair, who I normally have no time for, seems to have got things the right way round on his take that the EU needs to urgently address the immigration/freedom of movement area (not forgetting that the Blair/Brown duo did much to cause the actual problem in the UK) which would then encourage calls for a second referendum. If that does not happen Mrs May is just doing what the first referendum told her to do and doing an OK job given the hand she was dealt (split country, split Party etc).

    If the EU does not give us a good deal and our exit coincides with another economic collapse I doubt very much if Mrs May will get the blame, more likely the Brits will turn on the EU and no chance of trying to go back in on poorer terms. Incidentally, the next crash will most likely start in Asia rather than the West but will be much deeper than the last one due to previous massive fiscal interference by Western govn’s. Still way too much dead meat and wastage in the current system.

  • Peter Martin 3rd Mar '18 - 2:51pm

    @William Fowler,

    You could be right about another economic slump. The neoliberals have been slapping themselves on their backs recently for “getting the economy back into the black”

    Those in the Treasury have been saying silly things like:
    “We are making a success of reducing the deficit, which is down by more than three-quarters since 2010. But our national debt is still too high, and we must get debt falling to improve our economic resilience and reduce the burden on future generations.”

    As if future generations will ever have to send anything back in time! Their standard of living will be defined by what they can produce. Just like the postwar “babyboomer” generation’s standard of living was defined by rising production at the time too. They didn’t seem to suffer too much from previous high debt levels!

    If anyone cares to check, exactly the same thing was said when Nigel Lawson ran a surplus too in the late 80’s. It meant that money was leaving the economy to pay for the surplus and also leaving the economy to pay our overseas import bill. The real economy was therefore increasingly in deficit and we saw a big slump in the early 90s as a consequence.

  • The PM’s speech was quite detailed and seemingly aimed at uniting the disparate divisions within the Conservative party, with an appeal to the EU to negotiate on the basis of mutual economic interest.

    Herein lies the problem. The UK government are negotiating on the basis of securing the best deal they can get to protect the economic interests of the UK. This stance seems to ignore the fact that post-Maastricht we and the EU moved from a common market and customs union to an integrated single market.
    The EU are negotiating on the basis of the political imperative to maintain the integrity of the single market across Europe. Member states have expressed no interest in returning to a pre-Maastricht common market arrangement, which is where the UK wants to go.
    It is difficult to have a meaningful negotiation when the aims and objectives of the two parties are so disparate.
    When the PM says we need compromise on both sides, it is vital to understand why the EU takes the position it does and act accordingly.

  • Arnold Kiel 4th Mar '18 - 9:13am

    Barnaby, p.s.

    The economic catastrophy none of us remainers wishes to see is already happening every day: a job lost, an affordable lease expiring, a broken car, unmet need for care, a stabbed kid. What do you leavers think a GDP shortfall between 5 and 16%, depending on the deal an the region, will do to your sovereign people? I am not looking for an answer, just the slightest sign that this is of any concern to any of you. So far, denial: forecasts are always wrong, don’t listen to experts…

  • Arnold Kiel 4th Mar '18 - 9:24am

    Peter Martin,

    “Their standard of living will be determined by what they can produce”

    Is that really you? I could not agree more, for once.

    And how much less do you think they will be able to produce with diminished capital-, semifinished goods-, and labor inflow, and product- and service outflow?

  • Peter Hirst 4th Mar '18 - 12:22pm

    We need to go back to basics. We registered our intention to leave the eu following the referendum. We then become an independent negotiating actor to obtain the best deal we can. Where the negotiating falls down is that TM has her red lines though no way of enforcing them except by withdrawing the intention. She does not get this. At least she has concluded that she cannot get everything she wants if she believes it. Everybody else knew this last June.

  • Peter Martin 4th Mar '18 - 12:55pm

    @ Arnold Kiel,

    Inevitably there will be some disruption to the UK economy as it adjusts to new circumstances. But there’s no reason that overall production need fall after that. I find it somewhat curious that the EU is so intransigent. The best possible outcome for both the EU and and the UK is to allow trade to flow as freely after Brexit as it did before. We don’t need the rules of the single market and/or customs union to set up a free trade zone.

    The UK imports 84 bn euros of produce from Germany every year. Germany imports 37 bn from the UK. Where is Germany going to find such a liberally minded trading partner to replace the UK?

    I don’t believe such an imbalance is good for the UK. If the UK has close to balanced trade with the ROW then there is no reason why we can’t have that with Germany and the EU too. Replacements of German imports after a hard Brexit, which seems to be the EU’s preference, will create more opportunities in the UK than are lost to the UK.

  • David Allen 4th Mar '18 - 1:44pm

    Most people are underestimating how serious the Irish border issue is. The common assumption is that a hard border would be a bit of a pain, and it might conceivably be a target if the peace process collapsed, but that it doesn’t really look likely that the 20-year-old peace settlement is in any imminent danger.

    But – All that ignores the significance of the decision the UK is about to make.

    A hard border, and customs barriers to Irish trade, would hurt Ireland very badly. Most of their trade in goods, both with the UK and with mainland Europe, goes across that land border. Having to get customs clearance, and probably having to pay UK tariffs, in order to export from Dublin to Germany via the UK will hurt the Irish economy. Jobs will be lost.

    The UK threatens to impose this pain on the island of Ireland, because the Tories have sided with the DUP. The UK could reduce the pain by accepting the EU proposals for a soft border, or eliminate the pain altogether by staying in a customs union. But the UK instead threaten to choose to do what the Protestant DUP want, and ignore the fact that it will hurt Catholic Ireland.

    That would be an invitation to war. A hard border would not just be theoretically at risk in a conflict situation. It would be a direct provocation of conflict.

  • Arnold Kiel 4th Mar '18 - 4:16pm

    Peter Martin,

    what are you arguing for? That Germany should agree to continually enjoy its trade surplus? Sure, but that will not create UK jobs (and require pervasive and permanent rule-taking). Besides, this situation is not caused by Britain’s liberal-mindedness (which, in this respect, I am not disputing), but by industrial competency and consumer preference. For that very reason, Germany needs no replacement for the UK, unless Britons suddenly develop a preference for Chevrolets or Chryslers.

    Or are you arguing that this should be rebalanced? OK, but what should Britons drive, then? Most foreign owned local car production serves all the EU; without the customs union, the single market and alignment, it will relocate. Britan’s fleet will have less local content (=jobs), not more.

    You should stop belittling terminal deindustrialization as “some disruption to the UK economy as it adjusts to new circumstances”. There is no way for 65 Million people to live well from services.

  • Peter Martin 4th Mar '18 - 5:39pm


    There are several points in your post. The most important is the one about Germany “enjoying its surplus”. I’m not sure what is the point of continually swapping a greater value of goods and services for a lower value. It’s Economics 101 that the reason for exports is to be able to swap them for imports. Germany is short changing its own people and distorting world and EU trade by it mindless mercantalism.

    But in any case, regardless of the rights and wrongs about all that, Germany can only run a surplus if others, like the UK, are prepared to run deficits. You’ll be left reliant on the USA, and the vagaries of President Trump, for that if you succeed in your wish for the UK economy to fail after Brexit.

    The other is about the degree an economy can rely on services. It’s around 80% in the UK. That could reduce after Brexit and that may not be a bad thing; but, it could be a mistake for the government to force the economy in that direction. Maybe we should just buy more cars from Korea and Japan. We could perhaps even look at ways of removing the 10% tariff on those. Alternatively we could use those tariffs, on German imports too, to cross subsidise our exports to the EU and nullify any 10% duty the EU might apply.

    @ David Allen,

    I think you’re right that a hard border will hurt Ireland more than the UK. The UK proposals for electronic monitoring of goods across the border probably means they aren’t particularly concerned in collecting duties and tariffs. It’s the EU that wants high tariff barriers

    Trade with the European mainland which passes through the UK shouldn’t be a problem though. Containers can be sealed etc. Again that’s going to cause more worry in the EU than the UK. They’ll be concerned that we’d slip some NZ butter into the containers and claim it originated in Ireland!

  • Arnold Kiel 4th Mar '18 - 7:47pm

    Peter Martin,

    none of that is possible: you can remove tariffs only by having a trade agreement (e.g. with Korea or Japan), or when applying the WTO most favoured nation clause, i.e. removing them also for everybody else. It would not enhance British employment, though. The EU would force (if not anyway provided by the contracts) any of its trade partners, not to undercut it in other deals, e.g. with the UK.

    Any UK-EU trade-deal would necessarily contain cross-subsidization-prohibitions and MFN-clauses.

  • Peter Martin 4th Mar '18 - 8:21pm

    @ Arnold Kiel,

    I wouldn’t support subsidies in general, but if we don’t want tariffs to affect our exports, and we’re still a net importer after Brexit it would make sense for us to compensate our exporters with revenue raised from our imports. We should in theory come out ahead. Of course the EU could do the same to nullify the effect on their exporters. If trade were balanced, and the tariffs were all equal, the net effect would be exactly the same as if neither played the cross subsidy game. We might just as well agree to not impose tariffs in the first place.

    If the EU wants to insist on tariffs then we may as well forget about a trade deal and trade under WT terms.

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