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Will Britain delay Brexit in all but name — and for how long?

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With deadlines fast approaching for a Brexit agreement and a seemingly unresolvable impasse on the Irish border, Theresa May might have opted to punt — for as long as three years. Rather than cut off Northern Ireland from the UK’s trade policies or create a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, the UK may opt to stay within the EU’s trade rules through 2021 rather than exit in 2020 as originally planned, at least as the preferred “backstop” to a failure to resolve the border issue. That may leave everyone less than pleased, including some of the Prime Minister’s own constituencies.

Basically, it would be a Brexit in all but name for at least a year:

There’s a radical new option that Prime Minister Theresa May’s inner Brexit Cabinet has taken into consideration to address the intractable Irish border problem: keeping European Union customs rules for longer.

According to four people familiar with the matter, the 11 Cabinet ministers at the heart of setting Brexit policy spent much of their 90-minute meeting on Tuesday discussing the need for a new plan to ensure that there’s no return to frontier checks on goods moving between Ireland and Northern Ireland. …

The idea — already met with skepticism in Brussels — is that it would keep the U.K. aligned with some of EU trade rules for longer, as a backstop plan to avoid a crisis over the Irish border. This idea has now made its way up to the most senior levels in May’s Cabinet, with some members believing it has potential to resolve the impasse, according to the people.

Politico Europe scoffs at the idea a bit, but notes that it will play well with one important May constituency:

When is a customs union not a customs union? When it’s a “time-limited goods arrangement.”

With the Cabinet at odds over the U.K. government’s preferred option for a post-Brexit customs arrangement, British officials are exploring a new option that could provide “a bridge” to a deal. …

Such a deal also has the potential to keep the Democratic Unionist Party — whose MPs prop up May’s government — onside by avoiding a border in the Irish Sea while potentially winning Brexiteer support as a temporary “bridge” to the final position in which the whole of the U.K. exits the EU’s customs area.

“Basically it’s keeping in the external tariff until the new system is ready,” said one U.K. official. “It would have to include a sunset clause. Both sides would need this. The question is how you find the language to persuade the Irish.”

So far, Ireland’s Taoiseach seems to be reacting favorably … to an extension of the customs union. Leo Varadkar certainly won’t object to an extension of the status quo:

Beyond that, though, Varadkar threatens to oppose any proposal that leaves Ireland divided on customs policies. That would force the UK into a “hard Brexit” that will create all sorts of disruptions for both sides:

Varadkar said that the EU and Dublin had “yet to see anything that remotely approaches” a way out of the current impasse.

“By June we need to see substantial progress as the tánaiste [Varadkar’s deputy, Simon Coveney] and I have said on many occasions. The European council will review progress in June. The deadline of course for the withdrawal agreement is October, but if we are not making real and substantial progress by June then we need to seriously question whether we’re going to have a withdrawal agreement at all.” …

Varadkar said: “We need to have that backstop because that gives us the assurance that there will be no hard border on our island. So we stand by our position that there can be no withdrawal agreement without that backstop.

“If the UK wants to put forward alternatives … we’re willing to examine that. But we need to see it written down in black and white and know that its workable and legally operable. And we’ve yet to see anything that remotely approaches that.”

EU president Donald Tusk has repeatedly insisted that they will fully back Ireland on this issue and will not sign any agreement that results in a hard border on the island. That commitment hasn’t changed a whit during the period when the British government has tried to come up with alternatives to the EU-sponsored “backstop” of keeping Northern Ireland in the customs union. So far, they’ve come up empty, and the June deadline for new proposals is fast approaching.

This latest proposal doesn’t appear to rise to the level of a replacement, either. Instead, it looks more like a delay in order to give the UK more time to find a solution that will undo the Gordian knot into which Brexit has put them in Ireland. But the real question is whether there is a solution to this Gordian knot that doesn’t end up being the classic Alexandrian outcome of simply hacking right through it — the “hard Brexit” that the UK wants to avoid, resulting in the hard border by default that Ireland refuses to accept.

This has the potential for an interminable status. May has had almost two full years to come up with an answer already, and other than this delaying tactic, has come up empty.  If they can’t come up with a mutually agreeable solution in another two years, then what? Three more years of being in the customs union to keep looking for another solution? That’s not likely to satisfy anyone, which is why Varadkar is demanding that the UK meet the current deadline.

Don’t expect the EU to drop the backstop already contained within their initial agreement with May’s government based on this can-kicking idea. They have little reason to let Brexiteers off the hook anyway, and the specter of more border issues in Ireland is a good reason to demand a real solution soon, rather than just a pledge to keep working on it. June’s going to be a mighty interesting month in London, Brussels, Dublin, and Belfast.

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Lesley Stahl: Trump told me he attacks the media so that people won’t believe us when we report bad news about him

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I mean, obviously. A scandalized shiver runs through the room in the clip after Stahl says this but nothing about Trump is as transparent as his strategic goal in gaslighting people about “fake news.” Here’s something I’ve linked before, written two days after his inauguration and attempting to explain why Sean Spicer held that embarrassing “these were the biggest inauguration crowds ever!” press conference. Among the suggested reasons:

The point of carping about “fake news” isn’t to discredit the stories that are false, it’s to discredit the stories that are true. It’s the same as the “witch hunt” rhetoric about Russiagate, which has already produced five guilty pleas and 17 indictments. Any politician pinned to the wall by damaging news would kill to have a reservoir of suspicion about the media among their base that they can call on in a pinch to defuse that news. The goal isn’t necessarily to get people to disbelieve a story but to stoke enough doubt about the reliability of its narrators that the public will conclude there’s no way to know what’s truth and what isn’t. That’s the art of the gaslight. And the author I quoted above also anticipated that:

If ever there was a “tell” about Trump’s strategy, it was this tweet posted 17 days after he was sworn in. It’s one thing to claim that reporters are slanting their coverage to disfavor him, as that obviously does happen. It’s another to suggest that pollsters are engaged in willful fraud, en masse, to make him look bad by manipulating their data and willing to risk their professional reputations in doing so:

Everything that’s bad for him is “fake” and you shouldn’t believe it, and if you do you’re siding with Them over him. He’s not coy or in any way subtle about this. This is a guy, remember, who back in the day used to dial up reporters posing as his own PR flack to tout his wealth or his womanizing or whatever. Subtlety’s not his thing, certainly when dealing with the media. The reason there are murmurs in the room after Stahl tells her story, I think, is just because he’s willing to cop to the gaslighting openly, even to a member of the media itself. It’s all just a game, played to a strategic end. Why pretend otherwise?

In lieu of an exit question, something unrelated but fun. Apparently Trump’s inimitable Twitter style is, in fact, imitable:

“West Wing employees who draft proposed tweets intentionally employ suspect grammar and staccato syntax in order to mimic the president’s style, according to two people familiar with the process,” the Boston Globe’s Annie Linskey reports.

The details: “They overuse the exclamation point! They Capitalize random words for emphasis. Fragments. Loosely connected ideas. All part of a process that is not as spontaneous as Trump’s Twitter feed often appears.”

That’s GOP-style populism in microcosm. You’ve got one guy, the populist-in-chief, whose grammar and spelling are not the best but whose style is “authentic” and “relatable.” And then you’ve got a coterie of well-educated phonies and cronies mimicking him, pretending to be stupid in the same way because that’s what he wants and they’re convinced that that’s what the people want. No one has any incentive, political or financial, to be better. Sad!

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Trump Goes Scorched Earth on FBI Spy Campaign: ‘Follow the Money, the Spy Was Only There to Help Crooked Hillary Win’

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President Trump unleashed on the FBI’s infiltration of his campaign Tuesday evening in a pair of tweets.

The President said, “Follow the money!” the spy wasn’t there to find ‘Russian collusion,’ he was there to help Crooked Hillary win the election!

President Trump, please never stop tweeting!

President Trump lit up Twitter Tuesday evening after he tweeted what we are all thinking–the spies infiltrated his campaign for political purposes to help Hillary Clinton win the election.

Trump tweeted: If the person placed very early into my campaign wasn’t a SPY put there by the previous Administration for political purposes, how come such a seemingly massive amount of money was paid for services rendered – many times higher than normal…

Trump then slams Crooked Hillary: …Follow the money! The spy was there early in the campaign and yet never reported Collusion with Russia, because there was no Collusion. He was only there to spy for political reasons and to help Crooked Hillary win – just like they did to Bernie Sanders, who got duped!

The informant, Stefan Halper, was paid a total of $411,575 in 2016 and 2017 for work with the US government that included spying on the Trump campaign.

It was a lucrative business for Stefan Halper.

Now the Democrats are in spin mode.

They went from ‘there was no spy inside of Trump’s camp’ to ‘the informant was there to help protect Trump against the Russians.’

Former DNI Chief James Clapper is claiming embedding spies is “a standard investigative practice.”

Hillary Clinton wanted to spy on her political opponent and she accomplished her goal with help from Obama’s weaponized intel agencies.

President Trump is right; Spygate is worse than Watergate.

Earlier Tuesday, President Trump told reporters, “If they had spies in my campaign, that would be a disgrace to this country.”

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Shouldn’t Publix be forced to bake the Latin cake?

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Palette cleansers don’t usually come this sweet … if we’re still permitted to use that phraseology. A family celebrating the graduation of their son with high honors had ordered a cake made from the local Publix supermarket, using their online system to proudly display Jacob Kosinski’s status as a summa cum laude student. Just one problem, the online system responded — they don’t allow obscenities on their cake designs.

Shouldn’t they be forced to bake the Latin cake?

Cara Koscinski organized a graduation party for her 18-year-old son. For the occasion, she ordered a cake online from her nearest grocery store, Publix, which lets customers build their own cakes complete with a customized inscription, which they enter into a message box marked “cake message option.”

Carefully, she typed in the words she wanted on the cake: “Congrats Jacob! Summa Cum Laude class of 2018.”

Publix’s online system was unhappy with the word “cum.”

Good Lord. This is less about mandatory cake-baking than it is about cultural ignorance and classical illiteracy. We stopped teaching Latin as a compulsory subject in most schools decades ago, but this Latin phrasing in particular remains very common — used in all college and university graduations, and many high school degrees, too. Magna cum laude is understood by most people not to be a reference to a particular prophylactic, for Pete’s sake.

Publix apologized and returned the family’s money, which is as much as they can do for this particular error. It should remind them to pay attention to the special instructions in their own flippin’ system, however, especially when the customer calls to explain it to them in plain English. If Publix doesn’t want to make cakes for a particular special occasion or to proclaim a particular message, they shouldn’t be forced to do, and neither should anyone else. But is it too much to ask that they check out requests to ensure that they really object to it?

At least Jacob has a pretty clear understanding about the nonsensical levels of political correctness and ignorance he’ll encounter in the wider world. It might keep him more grounded than most other high school graduates entering colleges and universities this fall. In the meantime, let’s offer a Latin lesson for bakeries around the country, just in case they need to conjugate. In the language sense, that is.

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