Occasional reflections on Life, the World, and Mathematics


Haunted Boris Johnson

Now that Theresa May has forced her cabinet to acknowledge a tiny portion of the reality of Brexit, Boris Johnson has apparently taken to moping around Whitehall to make certain that no one will think that he’s happy to now be conspiring with reality to betray his cause.

The best line is this:

Those close to the foreign secretary say that he feels he has been “bounced” into agreeing to a deal that is a world away from the hard Brexit he campaigned for. “He thinks that what’s on the table is so flawed we might even be better off staying in,” one said.

Might we? This reminds me of something I’ve been arguing for the past year, that there is a logical imperative to hard Brexit, that comes from choice theory. In game theory we talk about a strategy X dominating strategy Y if X is superior than Y in all respects. This can refer either to providing a better return under all possible (unknown) states or outcomes of the world; or to providing a better return in all the different categories. If X dominates Y then choosing Y is clearly an error, no matter what your relative prioritisation is of the different categories of return, and even if I leave the prioritisation entirely in suspension. Suppose I am considering whether to go the mountains or to a sunny beach resort on holiday. If the beach is more expensive, harder to get to, and I hate hot sunny weather and swimming, then the choice is obvious. On the other hand, if I prefer hot sunny weather and swimming, then I have to decide how much I really prefer it, and weigh that against extra cost and inconvenience. This can be difficult, because the different categories are incommensurable: How many hours at the airport is a day in the sun worth?

Every variety of soft Brexit has the problem of being dominated by staying in the EU. The UK gets worse trade relations, loses some amount of control over EU policy, is excluded from projects like the Galileo satellite system, but gains no sovereignty, no right to reward favoured oligarchs by relaxing pollution controls and money-laundering regulations under the guise of “buccaneering free trade”, and still has to allow weird foreigners to talk funny languages in the street and have babies in British hospitals, so no gain there.

Hard Brexit, on the other hand, up to and including what is called “crashing out” without a deal, is in most respects a disaster, but there are certain areas — trade deals, keeping out the foreigners, money laundering — where it is possible to describe something as a benefit. Then it’s just a matter of prioritising those areas, mainly by misty-eyed appeals to national honour and sovereignty — Freedom! — so that any quotidian concerns, including the ordinarily sacred economic interests can be dismissed as petty pelf or even treasonous. (“Fuck business“, in the immortal words of BJ.)

To make matters even worse, Brexit secretary David Davis has now gone to his political grave without ever revealing the secret of the quick and easy Brexit deal that he was planning:

So be under no doubt: we can do deals with our trading partners, and we can do them quickly.  I would expect the new Prime Minister on September 9th to immediately trigger a large round of global trade deals with all our most favoured trade partners.   I would expect that the negotiation phase of most of them to be concluded within between 12 and 24 months.

Comments on: "Boris Johnson has an attack of the sads" (1)

  1. Seymour Steinsaltz said:

    Wonder what odds the bookies are giving that the Brexit crashes into dust?

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