If you can’t join them, beat them: Denmark, football, Maastricht and Brexit’s genesis

June 23rd, 2018

David Herdson looks back to 1992

They shouldn’t even have been there, and had it not been for the disintegration of Yugoslavia, they wouldn’t have been. However, they didn’t let their second chance go to waste and as the leaders of the twelve EC members met in Lisbon, the plucky Danes overturned the natural order of things and defeated Germany’s assumed unstoppable progress.

As metaphors went, the football team’s 2-0 victory was perfect. 24 days earlier, the Danish electorate had rejected the Maastricht Treaty by the slender margin of 50.7 to 49.3. As the Danish Foreign Minister, Uffe Ellemann-Jensen – sporting a football scarf in the Portuguese summer – put it, “if you can’t join them, beat them!”

How the European Community handled that vote was seen even at the time as one of the most important decisions it would take in determining its future direction. In retrospect, it was all the more so, and ultimately set Britain on its path to Brexit.

In essence, two choices lay open: to try to assuage Danish concerns and to push on with Project Euro, or to use the Danish vote as the excuse to drop that project and to limit the EC to the Single Market and other single-issue cooperative initiatives.

That choice didn’t lie solely with the governments collectively, it lay with them individually too. John Major must have been sorely tempted to abandon a ratification process that he knew even then would cause his government, with its small and dwindling majority, any number of difficulties. However, he’d negotiated the agreement – and Britain’s opt-outs – in good faith and rightly saw himself as honour-bound to try to ratify it, providing that the other signatories were doing likewise.

There is a school of thought that says that had Britain refused to ratify, either the other countries would have signed their own agreement or they would have waited for a change of mind in the UK. I don’t think either assertion is right. To have tried to have pushed ahead with the Euro outside the structures of the EU would have been practically difficult: those who tried to would have had to have created a parallel organisation. That would have had a political spillover, to the extent that France, which only just ratified Maastricht (by 51-49) might not have done so without the guarantees that the Euro being overseen within the EC/EU institutions brought.

On the other hand, had they waited for a pro-European British government – 1997, in effect – then it wouldn’t have been just the British personnel that had changed. The Euro was born out of a confluence of political interests and beliefs of three men whose relationship allowed it to happen: Helmut Kohl, Francois Mitterrand, and Jacques Delors. Kohl and Mitterrand, who both lived through WWII, were scared about the consequences of an excessively powerful Germany, particularly with the end of the Cold War meaning a lessened superpower presence in Europe and the re-emergence of weaker states to the East. They saw the Euro as the means to prevent that. By contrast, Delors was not just an advocate for European federalism but also had the forceful and dynamic personality to drive it. His plans provided the framework that Kohl and Mitterrand saw as necessary to restrain German power. However, by 1997, Delors had left office, Mitterrand was dead and Kohl’s authority was waning amid high unemployment and poor election results. Their successors had different interests, different personalities and were not operating in the heady days of the afterglow to the happy revolutions of 1989-91.

Put simply, had the Maastricht Treaty been dropped in 1993, there’s a good chance that it couldn’t have been revived and that the EC (the EU was a creation of Maastricht) would have remained a primarily economic rather than political project; the one, in fact, that Britain signed up for in the concept of the Common Market. (It is true that Ever Closer Union has always been an objective of the EEC; it’s also true that for thirty years after 1957, that supposed objective meant very little in practice).

Not that we should be too critical of the politicians of 1991-3. For one thing, we don’t know that their prime motive wasn’t right – after all, Germany’s strength was enough of a problem within the Euro; what greater problems might it have caused had it been freer to determine its own tax, spending and interest rate policies?

Back in 1992 though, Denmark managed to both beat them and, later, join them – at least as far as signing the Treaty went; it remains outside the Euro, protected by an opt-out. That worked for Denmark but not for Britain, which in the passage of Maastricht and the follow-on treaties, lost the EEC it was comfortable with and found itself faced with the increasingly stark choice of membership of a club it didn’t really want to be part of, or leaving a club it didn’t really want to be outside.

In an echo of history, the next EU summit opens in Brussels on 28 June, the same day as England’s last World Cup first round match, against Belgium. Perhaps Mrs May should turn up in an England scarf. You never know: perhaps Gareth Southgate’s boys might pull off something remarkable.

David Herdson

p.s. I appreciate that unlike with Denmark, the England football team doesn’t represent the whole of the country the PM represents but you can only make do with the opportunities given. It’s not Mrs May’s fault that Scotland, Wales or N Ireland didn’t qualify.

p.p.s. England were 12/1 at the time of writing (SkyBet) to match Denmark’s 1992 achievement and win the respective tournament. Given the performances of Brazil, Argentina and Germany so far, those are not unreasonable.


Punters now make it a 63% chance that the UK will leave the EU on March 29th next year

June 22nd, 2018


The big unknown now is the Leave campaign funding investigation

As can be seen from the chart the Brexit “will it happen on time” market has seen a fair bit of turbulence since the start of the year with YES now a 67% chance.

The recent bumps have been cause by the progress of the exit bill through both houses of parliament.

At the moment the one thing that we know about that could cause movement is the Electoral Commission investigation into the leave campaign spending and whether or not what was done was lawful.

We should know the outcome in the next few weeks and there are signs that the Commission could rule that it wasn’t. If that happens then expect it to trigger off huge legal battles by those arguing that this undermines the democratic legitimacy of the referendum. In that situation this market will move.

  • Note: I’m off to my niece’s wedding and this will be my last post today
  • Mike Smithson


    Survation Brexit anniversary poll has REMAIN 5% ahead

    June 22nd, 2018

    Chart – Survation

    By 48% to 25% those polled want a referendum on the final deal

    Tomorrow’s the second anniversary of the Brexit referendum and expect a number of polls seeking to gauge opinion now.

    First out is Survation for Good Morning Britain which finds that if the referendum was rerun today the UK would remain in the EU, for the first time since March with Survation.

    Leave 47% (-2); Remain 53% (+2)

    Significant percentages (36%-43%) of respondents have a ‘limited’ understanding of the Customs Union, Single Market and the difference between them.

    • However, more respondents identified the correct definition of single market (38%) in comparison to the correct definition of Customs Union (just 17%).

    • More respondents prefer a ‘soft’ to a ‘hard’ Brexit (43% vs 37%).

    • Nearly half (47%) believe that leaving the EU without a deal would be bad for Britain (compared to 32% for ‘good’) and only 35% of respondents believe Brexit will be good for the UK economy (compared to 39% who said it will be bad).

    • Nearly half (48%) of respondents support a referendum on the final deal (compared to 25% opposed) and 40% believe that there will be a Brexit ‘dividend’ (compared to 37% who felt the opposite).


    Mike Smithson


    Just 19% of current LAB voters think the vote to leave the EU was right

    June 21st, 2018

    You’ve got to marvel at Team Corbyn’s ambivalence

    Just 19% of Labour voters in today’s YouGov poll think that the decision to leave the EU was right with 72% saying wrong. I think this is the widest split there’s been.

    Yet in spite of being out of line with party supporters the leadership has pursued an approach to Brexit that is very different. The remarkable thing is that this has not become an issue.

    Voters in most of the LAB seats went for leave at the Referendum and the majority of LAB gains at GE2017 in England and Wales were in leave seats.

    In many ways Corbyn is enjoying the luxury of opposition. In government, as Mrs May would not doubt tell you, things are very different.

    Mike Smithson


    Michael Bloomberg to spend $80m helping the Democrats in key races at the November midterms

    June 21st, 2018

    Could this help turn the tide?

    For nearly a year the betting markets have made a Democratic party House win in November’s midterm the favourite. These, of course, are the key elections that come up half way through a presidential term when the whole of the House is up for election as well as about a third of the Senate. The Democrats margin has narrowed very sharply on Betfair but the blues are still just ahead. From the betting perspective this is viewed as being very tight.

    What could turn out to be highly significant news in US electoral politics is not Trump’s u-turn on separating immigrant children from their parents but that ex-New York mayor, Michael Bloomberg has announced plans that could make a huge difference in the coming elections. These should give a good take on how Trump’s Republicans are doing and whether or not the incumbent might succeed in winning the nomination again and going for a second term.

    Also if the Republicans lose control of the House then it could impede Trump’s ability to bring in legislation.

    This is how the New York Times is reporting the development:

    “..Mr. Bloomberg … has approved a plan to pour at least $80 million into the 2018 election, with the bulk of that money going to support Democratic congressional candidates, advisers to Mr. Bloomberg said.

    By siding so emphatically with one party, Mr. Bloomberg has the potential to upend the financial dynamics of the midterm campaign, which have appeared to favor Republicans up to this point. Facing intense opposition to President Trump and conservative policies, Republicans have been counting on a strong economy and heavily funded outside groups to give them a political advantage in key races, especially in affluent suburbs where it is expensive to run television ads.

    Mr. Bloomberg’s intervention is likely to undermine that financial advantage by bankrolling advertising on television, online and in the mail for Democratic candidates in a dozen or more congressional districts, chiefly in moderate suburban areas where Mr. Trump is unpopular. Democrats need to gain 23 congressional seats to win a majority..”

    Mike Smithson


    NEW PB/Polling Matters podcast: NHS funding, ‘Brexit dividends’ and UK drugs policy

    June 21st, 2018

    On this week’s PB / Polling Matters podcast, Keiran Pedley and Leo Barasi look at public opinion on the NHS as it hits 70 years old in light of the government’s promise to pump in extra cash. Keiran takes us through what the public think of the policy and whether they would accept tax rises to pay for it alongside data on how perceptions of the quality of care provided by the NHS have changed over time.

    Later in the show, Leo looks at public opinion on UK drug laws, especially those related to cannabis as the government looks to change the law and discusses how policy might shift in the future. Leo also raises the important distinction between ‘decimalisation’ and ‘legalisation’ that appears to go over many commentators heads.

    Finally, Keiran and Leo briefly look at US public opinion on the Trump administration’s policy of separate children of immigrants from their parents at the US border. Spoiler alert: it’s very unpopular.

    Follow this week’s guests:


    Kirsty Wark heads the betting for the next QuestionTime host

    June 20th, 2018

    Several bookies have now got odds up who is going to succeed David Dimbleby as the host of the long running BBC series Question Time. Most of them showing a similar assessment to Ladbrokes which features in the panel above.

    My understanding is that the program is made by an independent production house which clearly will have a view about who should take over from Dimbleby. So this is not going to be a sole BBC decision. The Producers will be looking for somebody who is nimble enough to be fully aware of who is in the audience and the sorts of views that they might wish to express.

    This choice is very important politically because not only is there the run of the mill series of weekly shows but at General Election times the main TV event featuring the leaders has been the Question Time special hosted by David Dimbleby. I thought that TMay lost her majority with that tin-eared “there’s no magic money tree” response the the nurse who hadn’t had a pay rise for eight years.

    The Newsnight presenter, Kirsty Wark, is currently the favourite and certainly she would appear to have the qualities that would make her a strong successor successor in the in the role.

    No doubt there will be a lot of speculation within the Westminster village and within the media generally and it is hard to make a judgement.

    Given that the only men presenters of the programme since it was first broadcast have been man then that is, surely, a strong case for a woman to take this on.

    there are other “runners” in the betting – I’ve just listed those at the top.

    Mike Smithson


    Losing today’s Brexit vote could prove fatal for Mrs. May’s premiership

    June 20th, 2018

    Can the rebels be curtailed yet again?

    After the Brexit bill defeat for the government on the in the Lords on Monday the issue is now back in the commons and there’ll be a big vote on whether to accept what the Lord’s decided.

      The stakes are very high indeed because if the measure goes through it will have a huge impact on the way that ongoing negotiations on the deal take place. Essentially if it passes Mrs Mays hands will be very tied and it will also be symbolic that she is losing control.

    After the big improvement in her position following the Russian attack in Salisbury in March things have got much more difficult for the Prime Minister as the Brexit bill has gone through Parliament. The key issue is who makes the final decision and that is something that Mrs May throughout has wanted to keep to herself.

    A loss in today’s vote might be just what triggers enough MPs to send letters to the chairman of the 1922 committee seeking a confidence vote and it is far from certain that she would survive it. A problem is that she is alienating both remainers and leavers within the parliamentary party. Also the affairs from her tenure at the home office that have come into the public domain have not helped her. She appears on some issues to beat tin-eared and out of tune.

    This Tweet is from Anthony Goodman of ConservativeHome.

    I’m not convinced of the “it will lead to a new general election” argument. A new leader, Javid/Hunt/Gove perhaps, could well carry on without going to the country.

    I should add that I’m not, as yet, betting on this.

    Mike Smithson