Thursday, 19 January 2017

Deal Or No Deal

Hands up if you've ever lost your cool while bidding for obscure items on ebay?  I've always fancied one of those front-loading record players from the 80s that featured automatic track selection, a separate needle for each side, and programmable playlists. Who wouldn't want one of those in 2017?  Well, I want one but I'm not prepared to engage in a bidding war if it means I end up spending £1000 of my easily-earned cash.  But if I was to bid on one of those I'd probably first think about how much pleasure I'd get out of playing all my Human League and Altered Images albums on it.  I might then ponder for a bit on how much pleasure I'd get from playing George Formby songs on a spanking new banjo ukulele.  Which would bring more joy to my mundane middle-aged existence?  I know this isn't interesting to anyone but the winner by a small margin is the banjo ukulele.  What have we learned?  I'm prepared to bid on a futuristic turntable from the past but only up to the value of a mid-range banjolele. You see, I'm more than prepared to walk away from an internet negotiation on a turntable as soon as it becomes a bad deal because no deal is better than a bad deal.

"No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal." - Theresa May,  18 January, 2017

No deal is better than a bad deal.  It is so self-evidently true we often forget that it is true. When the Prime Minister negotiates with the EU I fully expect her to have a written definition of a bad deal.  She'll have a very different definition of a bad deal than I would have but that's no different from other ebay bidders having a different view of the value of a vintage record player. The key point is that she should be able to recognise when the negotiated settlement appears worse, according to her set of metrics, than no deal at all.  Of course, her metrics don't seem to extend much beyond deporting anyone without a UK passport but that isn't the issue at stake here. I only want to point out that she will have a heuristic that can give her quantitative estimates of deal quality, albeit from the perspective of an archly conservative Conservative.

Which is it to be ?  The Sharp RP-117 turntable or the Banjo Ukulele?

Let's imagine that the UK measures the deal offered by the EU and decides it is a bad deal. Theresa May then walks away with no deal at all.  This sounds bad but she has actually chosen the optimum outcome from all available choices.  The EU will obviously look at their metrics and compute the quality of no deal from their perspective.  If Theresa May is lucky they might decide that their measurement for no deal is terrible, that there are other possible deal choices that might be worse than the rejected deal but definitely better than no deal.  Those fresh choices, of course, are concessions. Theresa May can then recompute the quality of those newly available choices and reject them if they are still worse than no deal.  And so it goes on and on, back and forth, from side to side.

These trade deals need time and patience.
The UK is screwed for two reasons.  The first reason is that Theresa May's metric is so heavily skewed towards immigration and freeing the UK from the clutches of the ECJ that almost nothing else matters.  She has made this clear time after time. Her judgement of any EU deal will be so clouded by the prospect of foreigners at the bus stop that she will walk away from anything that doesn't significantly reduce the probability of meeting a Finn in Finsbury Park.  This is a genuine worry.  If you're worried about the continuation of the EU pension transfer system or the ERASMUS scheme or just a general notion of economic prosperity than your worries are well-founded because these are not the prime factors in May's metric.  Almost every potential choice that could be proposed by the EU (those that are better than no deal from the EU's perspective) will be rejected by the Prime Minister because her metric will measure them all to be worse than no deal.  We are peering over the cliff and deciding that climbing down it without a harness is the best option because harnesses have complicated instructions and they cost money and sometimes they dig into your back and the man at the harness shop is mean and smelly and someone said he was even foreign.  If anyone actually did that and then plunged to their death it would be fair to say that they had their priorities all wrong.

What was that second reason for the UK being screwed?  Well, walking away from a bad deal is crucial because it is the only possibility that a better deal could ever be offered.  The UK Government badly wants to sign trade deals and has taken great pleasure in Donald Trump's announcement that a US/UK FTA is a top priority.  This is not good because the UK Government could never, ever walk away from those trade talks.  They can't even stage a temporary walk-out because time is not on their side. The simple fact is that the UK Government have promised to quickly sign trade deals because the decrease in European trade that will occur after Brexit needs to be immediately replaced with something else more exotic.  It might even be fair to say that the UK will be desperate to sign trade deals. Trade deals advantageous to both parties sadly take many years to negotiate, while the Daily Express can't wait until 2025. Besides, can anyone imagine Liam Fox returning empty-handed from Washington and trying to explain why he failed to enact his ultra-libertarian, Trans-Atlantic fantasy? This is simply not going to happen. As a consequence, they have no negotiating position to speak of because any deal put on the table by the US is better than no deal at all from the UK's perspective.  If I've worked that out then so has Donald Trump.  He might be a weird guy with weird hair and a weird personality and a weird vocabulary but I'm quite sure he knows how to negotiate the price of an egg. The UK, in return, will pay any price for that egg even after they learn it came from a diseased chicken with a nasty habit of laying toxic eggs that taste of durian fruit.

This can all be avoided by voting Yes in indref2.

PS I'm going to trial ending my posts with "This can all be avoided by voting Yes in indref2" instead of "Over and out".  Don't like it?  Get used to it.

PPS I'm going to look at that US trade deal next.  


  1. Replies
    1. That's one vote in favour, then. Expect to see it again in the next post. As if life wasn't already exciting!

    2. Why can't we have both?

      I mean it's not like the subscription to this site is cheap.

      Come on man. Play fair!

    3. The paywall will be going up quite soon. I mean, I'm going to start paying people to read my posts.

  2. I like it! Go for it!

    In the meantime, have you ever listened to this guy? Top man in the field of EU law.

    1. Yes, he really is excellent. One of his videos was a real inspiration back in the early days of this blog. It encouraged me to start finding out things for myself because it was clear that there was almost nothing but confusion and outright lies being communicated about the EU.

    2. And thanks for the link. Just watched it.

      I know I keep saying that the UK Government don't yet have a plan. I've said it to the point that I'm almost immune to what it means and am completely bored with my own predictability. When Michael Dougan says it I started to get worried all over again.

  3. Not all of it can be avoided, though. I've realised that the Common Travel Area will continue to contain Scotland, as it does Ireland. It will essentially be even more of a mini-Schengen zone.

    But there'll have to be customs borders between NI/Eire and iScotlandinEU/England. So there are very tough realities to face, even if everything goes smoothly for Scotland in regards to EU accession.

    From a campaigning perspective, that's not a lot of fun. We have to convince the electorate that the collateral damage from rUK's exit plus iScot would be less than the outright damage from Brexit.

    The "UK single market is worth four times as much to Scotland as the EU single market" line will probably be the core of the No2 campaign.

    1. You're quite right. There are real problems to solve. I'm doing my best to retain at least some optimism in the current mood of abject gloom.

      Despite what everyone says there will indeed be a NI/Ireland customs border. It can be as "soft" as can be but it will definitely exist. The same will be true of any border between an independent Scotland and England.

      I'm far more optimistic about EU accession. I don't there will be any direct problems, to be honest. The problems, as you point out, start with the divergence between Scotland and England, particularly at the border.

      I completely agree with you about the new Better Together slogan. We need to put our thinking caps on to work out the scale of the problem, who it mainly affects, and what can be done to solve it.

      I've been planning to post much more about how Brexit will affect Scotland because the UK is lost now. There is nothing that can stop the UK leaving the EU on the hardest imaginable terms. Scotland still has a chance to avoid the worst of this.

    2. Oh, I don't think I'm being pessimistic about EU accession. I just think the golden dream - an extension of Article 50 negotiations to allow Scotland time to disentangle from the UK and completely retain continuing membership - is perhaps a bit unlikely.

      As things stand, I suspect we would end up entering the EU the day we officially leave the UK. Which by then has already left the EU for at least six months.

      There's a small danger also that the Tories may attempt to threaten Scotland with the same "punishments the EU is imposing upon the UK". IMO, this actually would be a godsend("Ok, we'll leave you with all the debt, then.") since the two unions are not the same things(nor are leaving them). Nevertheless, from a propaganda perspective, difficult to refute for the man in the street.

    3. That's an interesting point about the timing. Oh dear, this is horribly complicated.

      There has been talk from the EU about giving Scotland a bit of breathing space with some kind of "holding pen" area. There's a lot of talk from the EU, though, which never amounts to more than talk. That EU Citizenship idea from Guy Verhofstadt springs to mind. It's all just games.

      I would guess the Daily Express and co would turn it into a battleground, just as they are doing now. Instead of WW2 they would probably start invoking Culloden. It is going to be horrible.

  4. I really don't hear anything much xenophobic here in Dundee, although I'm absolutely sure it exists in circles other than those in which I mix, but in some of the radio programmes I've listened to from England the hatred is simply rabid.

    I think that that is possibly what is driving May's thinking on controlling immigration. She knows that if she fails on this the next election we'll be looking at the possibility of a lot of Kippers in the House of Commons.

    I suspect that Corbyn is aware of this too.

    No matter how completely ridiculous it is or how damaging it will be, she has to stop immigration and probably get rid of some of the current "immigrants".

    Long term it is a death sentence for Britain. With an average age of 40, Britain desperately needs young active people to help pay taxes that will sustain our ever-more elderly population. The alternative is that no one get their pension till they are in their early 70s, but even that is only a partial saving, because many people over 60 are not working and most companies simply don't want older workers. Unemployment benefits are less expensive than pensions, but not too much.

    We desperately need the people we are sending away...

    It's not just the infamous Bulgarians and Poles that are suffering race hatred here. Even Swedes in London have been complaining of the race hatred they've had to put up with since the referendum.

    The scary thing is that Joe Bloggs doesn't seem to understand that Pakistan isn't in the EU, and that therefore Pakistanis are not going to be sent home.

    But Ukip and the tabloids made it all about immigration. And the party of government did nothing to stop it.

    You can't just turn this stuff off. You have to deliver.

    1. That is quite a gloomy picture you paint there. It sounds like something genuinely bad is happening to English society. Some kind of resurgent English identity gone wrong? Instead of singing folk songs about the Levellers it seems to be more like some kind of horrible Oi! revival.

      Can the UK Government really get the immigration numbers down? I have a post prepared on this topic but recent events took over. Non-EU immigration is consistently greater than from the EU and rising. The UK has full control over non-EU migrants yet hasn't even managed to dent the rate of increase, never mind the total number resident in the UK. This has been a top priority for years and years. I don't know why they've failed but they most definitely have. Even if EU migration is placed under the same rules as non-EU migration the regulatory mechanism that failed year after year will just continue to fail. What will happen if the numbers just remain the same as today? Who will get the blame next? I just don't know where this will end but the normalisation of xenophobia is a genuine concern.

    2. Well yes, it is gloomy, particularly for someone like me who was brought up never to see colour, creed, nationality, sexuality, gender, ability... blah, blah... but rather a person.

      It really really pains me to hear racism. It actually makes me feel physically ill.

      The tabloids have, for years, blamed everything on the EU, foreigners and immigration. And the government, regardless of colour, has been happy to let the EU/foreigners be the scapegoat for so much that was their fault, that it hasn't really ever made an effort to challenge them.

      I remember my very first course for folk who were Long Term Unemployed (2 years plus). Almost to a man they blamed their unemployment on foreigners ('wogs' they called them... it was 1998). It was Dundee. There were few foreigners and most of the ones they were were Indians (working in restaurants) or Pakistanis (working in corner shops).

      They had nothing to do with unemployment in Dundee. But the clients had read that excuse in the tabloids, and they used it. (The truth was nearer unemployability, drink, drugs, prison records, thuggish behaviour, etc, for the younger ones, and lack of interest in from employers for the older ones [well that and hygiene standards that wouldn't shame a skunk].)

      When eastern Europeans came in the 2000s, the blame moved over to them. But again in Dundee the numbers were very small.

      News papers have a HUGE responsibility here. And governments too.

      But most recently, in the run up to the referendum the sheer visceral hatred in the tabloids on a daily basis has been shocking and indeed frightening.

      As I say, I've seen headlines that have made me feel physically sick.

      We are lucky that the feelings aren't so strong here in Dundee, but I still worry for my friends who speak with an accent.

      And for safety sake I try not to speak on the phone in a foreign language when I'm on the street.

      Unless the government starts a programme of repatriation and spends an arm and a leg on port security they won't get the numbers down. They've known for a long time it was a burning issue, and they've managed nothing but increases.

      I suspect Mrs May was in charge of immigration. Fail!

    3. Urgh, that is a gloomy picture, indeed.

      Newspapers have a huge responsibility here. Some of the headlines seem to suggest a country at war rather than peacetime. I wonder if attitudes towards the Germans during WW2 were harder or softer than the current attitude towards Eastern Europeans today.

      I speak on the phone quite a lot in a foreign language here - English. For example, I do my job in English. It's never even once occurred to me that there would be a safety issue. If I listen out for conversations on the tram or the bus an amazingly low number are in Swiss German. Muti-culturalism really can work but seems to have malfunctioned in the UK.

      Theresa May was Home Secretary before she was Prime Minister. She was accountable for migration policy. Her current quest seems like unfinished business, which will finish almost all business.


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