Reason Roundup

Brexit Is Broken and No One's Quite Sure How to Fix It: Reason Roundup

Plus: Google CEO to get grilled today on bias and tobacco farmers are finding new profits in hemp.


Hollandse-Hoogte/ZUMA Press/Newscom

Complications and chaos surrounding "Brexit" have escalated this week, as the U.K. faces a little more than three months until it's scheduled to leave the European Union (EU). Britain being serially weirder than we Americans realize, the political drama came to a peak yesterday with a member of Parliament (MP) picking up the body's "ceremonial mace" in protest (mace as in giant ornate scepter, not the spray).

People told the Labour MP in hushed tones, "no, no, give it back." He did. He was kicked out. If only leaving a giant transnational body was so simple!

Members of Parliament were scheduled to vote today on whether to accept the Brexit terms that Prime Minister Teresa May had brokered with EU leaders. But with little support for her agreement in Parliament as of yesterday, and an unexpected ruling from the European Court of Justice—it held that it would be OK for the UK to remain in the EU without a vote from other members welcoming the Brits back in—May announced that the vote would be postponed.

May's handling of everything has been seen by many factions as a failure—the latest in a line of them from May, giving Labour and other opposition leaders an opportunity to strike. A statement from Labour yesterday said it would introduce "a motion of no confidence" on May (which would mean members found her unfit to be prime minister) "when we judge it most likely to be successful."

The biggest issue with May's Brexit deal is a "backstop" motion that British lawmakers don't want but May already agreed to and the EU leaders won't reconsider. From Al Jazeera:

The [backstop] clause proposes that the whole of the UK, including Northern Ireland, will remain in a customs union with the EU "unless and until" the bloc agrees there is no prospect of a return to a hard border [in Ireland]. But critics argue that the measure could tie Britain into the EU's orbit indefinitely.

In her statement to the Commons, May pledged to seek further "reassurances" on the brokered withdrawal agreement from EU leaders before rescheduling a parliamentary vote at an as-of-yet unspecified date but no later than January 21.

But in Brussels, EU leaders had none of it. "We will not renegotiate the deal, including the backstop," warned EU President Donald Tusk. "But we are ready to discuss how to facilitate UK ratification."

The Washington Post editorial board calls "the heart of the chaos" the tension between what Brexit referendum supporters thought they were voting for "and the reality of the deal" May made. "Britons were told they could regain sovereignty from E.U. governance without suffering any economic consequences," the board notes. But "in fact, any Brexit will leave the country poorer" with May's deal or "the 'no-deal Brexit' that could occur next March 29 if Parliament does not act, causing massive disruption, including shortages of basic goods."

And that's not all:

Any deal that leaves Britain out of Europe's single market could create a border between the two Irelands and threaten the peace accord that ended decades of violence in the North. Ms. May's plan provides that if Britain and the European Union are unable to agree during a transition period on a relationship that avoids a hard border, Britain would remain in the E.U. customs union indefinitely. That would force London to continue observing E.U. regulations and prevent it from striking its own trade deals with other nations.

There's now discussion of asking voters to consider another Brexit referendum, this one asking for a choice "between the real-world Brexit now on offer and remaining in the union."


U.S. Department of Search Engine Optimization? Federal lawmakers have demanded that Google CEO Sundar Pichai participate in their Capitol Hill performance about political bias in search results. Pichai is scheduled to testify today before the House Judiciary Committee, where a faction of Republican representatives will question him on whether Google "shows only the viewing/reporting of Fake News Media," as President Donald Trump put it on Twitter.

In a prepared statement, Pichai said that ideological bias in results would violate both the company's "core principles and our business interests."


Hemp could be the new tobacco—if lawmakers will let it. From Quartz:

A century ago, one of the best things a Kentucky farmer could do to make money was cultivate tobacco. At its height in 1919, over 600,000 acres were harvested across the state. By 2018, that number had decreased by nearly 90 percent. Soybeans are now Kentucky's leading crop.

Now, tobacco and soybean farmers are finding new promise in hemp. Kentucky farmer Will Brownlow told Quartz that an acre of soybeans might bring in $500, "but an acre of hemp—dense with flowers rich in CBD—could yield as much as $30,000."

"The tobacco farmer would be the perfect person to grow hemp," he says. "They're absolutely crazy not to grow it." A tobacco setter, he says, is a perfect piece of equipment for planting young hemp plants, and a barn once used for drying tobacco is the optimum for drying hemp.

Because it comes from the cannabis plant, hemp (the non-psychoactive cousin of marijuana) is still classified by the U.S. government as a controlled substance, a designation it's had since 1970. "The crop was illegal for anyone without a permit to grow until the 2014 Farm Bill opened up industrial hemp cultivation," Quartz notes, and "since then, the land area of planted hemp has more than doubled every year." But there are still big barriers to entry, like the fact that farmers must participate in an approved state-controlled pilot program. Growing hemp outside of one would still run afoul of federal law.


  • Russian national Maria Butina will cooperate with U.S. law enforcement "in any and all to matters as to which the Government deems this cooperation relevant," as part of a plea agreement she accepted on a charge of conspiracy.
  • French lessons: the country's "yellow vest" demonstrations "have ignited a debate on the left in the U.S. over how to avoid a similar backlash if Democrats get the chance to enact new environmental laws," reports NBC News. "And the demonstrations come as environmental issues are taking on more prominence amid dire reports from the United Nations and U.S. government warning lawmakers they have only limited time to minimize the damage."
  • More than 100 people were arrested yesterday on Capitol Hill while protesting perceived inaction on climate change.
  • Instagram will soon come with voicemail.