The unofficial rules of the road

daryanenergyblog

bike-2 One way of ensuring motorists give adequate overtaking distance

I learnt to drive in Ireland, hence there was a rule of the road in the UK which I didn’t know about, but I’ve learnt about it by observing other drivers and how they handle cyclists. This unwritten rule states “a cyclist must be urgently overtaken at all costs, all other rules of the road are suspended, including speed limits, lane discipline and basic common sense. Drivers who fail to overtake a cyclist immediately will be hunted down and shot by police marksmen”.

Or at least I assume that must be the rule, given the insane manoeuvres I’ve seen motorists perform to overtake cyclists. They’ll do 40 mph in a 20 mph zone, ignore solid white lines, overtake on a blind corner, hill or where the road narrows (sometimes swerving into oncoming traffic). They often fail to give sufficient clearance…

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Facebook, Cambridge Analytica and the stolen elections of 2016

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A story has been on the brew for sometime now about the extend to which big data and the use of what the intelligence agencies call “Psyop’s” played in both the EU referendum and the American presidential election. It has been alleged, something that seems to have crept under the radar of the mainstream media until now, that a company called Cambridge Analytica used various psyop’s techniques to profile voters and target them with customised adds in order to sway them into voting one way or the other.

The law/regulatory agencies are such a joke the reality is that anybody who wanted to cheat the law could do it easily without people realising.” Dominic Cummings, head of the vote leave campaign

So for example, if a trawl of a persons Facebook profile led them to believe he was a bit neurotic, they’d bombard him with fake news about hordes of migrants flooding the country. If you were one of the Bernie or bust brigade, they’d hit you with lots of anti-Hilary stuff hoping that while they probably couldn’t get you to vote Trump, they’d at least trigger you into vote for a third party (which in certain swing states would be as good as voting for Trump). These rumours were by and large either denied by the alt-right or they shrugged their shoulders and said so what.

Well a whistleblower has now come forward and firstly confirmed the veracity of these claims (and there are several others less prominently placed in the firm who back up his story). He’s also disclosed the full scale of this campaign of disinformation. While many assumed that only tens of thousand of profiles were affected (from which a larger data pool was extrapolated) actually its been revealed that some 50 million facebook user’s data was harvested. We are talking about using military grade psyops on an industrial scale to manipulate an electorate using lies and misinformation to change the outcome of an election. If that doesn’t count as electoral fraud, I don’t know what does.

It’s like dirty MI6 because you’re not constrained. There’s no having to go to a judge to apply for permission. It’s normal for a ‘market research company’ to amass data on domestic populations. And if you’re working in some country and there’s an auxiliary benefit to a current client with aligned interests, well that’s just a bonus.” Christopher Wylie, Cambridge Analytica Whistleblower

And I am not throwing around that word “fraud” idly. Under election rules in both the US and UK it is illegal to accept foreign donations and illegal to allow foreigners to interfere in an election. Cambridge Analytica is part of a shadowy web of firms connected to American hedge funds, the alt-right and Putin’s Russia.

“deep digging….Oh, we do a lot more than that.” Alexander Nix, head of Cambridge Analytica

Now unsurprisingly CA have denied any involvement in the leave campaign and tried to distance themselves from the Trump campaign. However, this is a difficult pill to swallow. As the BBC pointed out, a representative of CA was at the leave campaign launch. And there is clear evidence of money being paid to them and their associates.

And given that Steve Bannon, Trump’s campaign manager, was on the board of CA for sometime, its a little difficult for them to deny involvement. And since winning office, CA have been given several lucrative contracts for the US military and justice department by the Trump White house, which sounds suspiciously like “hush money” being paid out. So we are talking corruption of the highest order, which makes the current allegations against Trump seem fairly mild.

Its no good fighting election on the facts….two fundamental drivers are hopes & fears and many of those are unspoken and unconscious” Mark Turnbull, Cambridge Analytica Manager

And more recently, CA senior officials have been caught on tape by Channel 4 news offering to arrange for the smearing of a politician for cash, suggesting they were doing way more than simply running a few numbers or distributing campaign adds. And the tactics they discussed are eerily similar to a number of those used by Putin against his opponents. An important point, as I find it a bit too much of a coincidence that Putin was running his own fake news/Psyops campaign independent of the one his allies in the leave and Trump camp were running via CA. Given the links identified between these groups one can only assume that they both co-ordinated their efforts. CA told them who to target, Putin’s troll farms made up the fake news and hacked the DNC, giving Trump and the leave campaign plausible deniability.

And in the last few hours, Channel 4 have released another tape in which CA executives confirm that yes they did work on Trump campaign (illegally!). Indeed they were even the source of all the “crooked Hilary” stuff, and that they used “proxy” organisations to help spread their messages around.

Yes, its probable that a British based company, funded by a shadowy group of right wing billionaires, conspired with a foreign government to run a psyops operation against millions of American and UK voters in an effort to rig elections. If the Illuminati of Dan Brown fame are real, then they’re a bunch of amateurs…..in fact it is kind of odd, this story has been brewing for months and yet ace conspiracy theorist Alex Jones hasn’t mentioned it….so it must be true then, he only deals with ones that are fake!

Needless to say this scandal has profound implications. Firstly, given the closeness of both the US election (recall Trump won because of just 40,000 votes in 3 US states) and the brexit vote there is no way either could even remotely be considered legal and legitimate. One also has to question the legitimacy of many other recent elections, for example the recent vote in Italy. Those who say, okay one lot cheated, but you still have to accept the result. Well okay and if I guess your pin number and empty your bank account, will you just accept that result? Fraud is fraud.

As I’ve pointed out in a prior post, the problem in many parts of the world is that elections are seldom free or fair. And recall that CA, and other firms like it, honed their skills in electoral fraud in developing world nations such as Kenya, Russia or Trinidad and Tobago (too name a few).

Aside from the obvious consequence that one cannot trust in the outcome of these elections, it also means such regimes are illegitimate and beholden to the whims of their special interests. Its been suggested that Putin is less the puppet master and more a puppet of the Oligarchs who prop him up. He’d probably retire tomorrow and live the life of Reilly if he could. But that’s not going to be allowed to happen. As the recent deposing of Mugabe showed, once the elites decide to overthrow such a leader, they can do so very easily. They simply charge him with vote rigging and fraud, which is kind of like accusing a duck of quacking, he’s swiftly found guilty (after a detailed investigation….which takes all of ten seconds to conduct) and frogmarched out of the presidential palace to be replaced by another puppet.

And this is now the reality in both the UK and US. Trump we all know is guilty as hell of numerous acts that would warrant impeachment. He can be removed from office tomorrow, if the GOP ever decide to do so. Similarly Theresa May is only in her job because they want someone to take all the flack for brexit, then they’ll have the real leadership contest. If she actually tried to stay on or act like a PM, she’d be on her ass outside downing street so fast her head would spin.

The corruption, chaotic and dysfunctional nature of government which often holds back developing nations also has its roots in the illegitimate nature of their elections. With the big wigs fighting their games of thrones for a slice of the pie, lowly civil servants are left to fend for themselves. With no clear direction in terms of long term policy and no money, inevitably they outsource such decisions to the highest bidder.

And the chaos in the white house and the paralysis in the UK parliament (May has now essentially lost her majority when it comes to brexit, so they are wasting their time debating fortnightly bin collections, rather that the EU withdrawal bills) means both are starting to mirror a developing world government.

And equally such regimes are vulnerable to overthrow in a military coup. In theory if the joint chief’s decided tomorrow that Trump needs to be removed from power, they’ve now got more than the right to declare him a usurper who won the election by fraud, drive their tanks up Pennsylvania avenue and arrest him and most of his supporters. If you’ve ever wondered why some impoverished African nation with barely two pennies to rub together spends twice what it does on hospitals and social welfare on its army, its because they know that they have to pay off the generals, or they might be tempted to overthrow them.

So those who voted Trump (or Putin) because you trust him as a strong leader well A) are you nuts? And B) You were conned on a scale unprecedented in history and C) no, he’s a puppet of the very murky special interests you hate. And they can remove him anytime they feel like it, if he stops dancing to their tune.

With UK election rules being described as weak and helpless” in this era of dark money and big data, there needs to be an urgent review of all electoral law. Naturally such tactics should be banned and the penalties for breaking the electoral rules made all the more severe. I would suggest a new law of “perverting the course of democracy” with harsh penalties for those found guilty, possibly up to life imprisonment. If that sounds like going too far, democracy is at stake unless the penalties are suitably severe, someone will be tempted to break the rules. CA prove that.

One also has to consider whether it might even be necessary to turn off all social media for a month prior to any election. Or requiring voters to undertake a fake news awareness course and/or a citizenship course might need to become compulsory for all (its ironic that migrants to the UK have to do one of these, when any dumb random Daily Mail reading, Putin loving, racist with a pulse can vote once they turn 18).

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And as I noted at the time of the brexit vote, the rules of elections should be changed to make it harder to prevent a minority of the electorate hijacking the system (again, this is exactly what CA were playing at). Only 37% of the UK electorate backed brexit and certain regions, such as Scotland and London, voted overwhelmingly against it. As a basic minimum such a referendum should require +50% of the electorate to support it in all major regions of the UK to be legal. And Trump didn’t win the popular vote, getting only about 28% of the total electorate to support him and “winning” despite receiving 3 million less votes that Hilary. Clearly the US electoral system is a mockery of the word democracy and needs to be completely reformed, as it is ripe for this sort of exploitation.

Finally some form of backstop protection might be needed. That is to say that if a candidate is elected and allegations like these emerge, there are checks and balances in place that would either automatically trigger a re-vote (so the brexit referendum would automatically now be invalidated and re-held….with the leave camp and their donors required to fund the cost!). Or the winning candidate is automatically disqualified and considered to have forfeited the election (or referendum) by cheating. So for example Trump would now be declared a usurper, hauled off to jail and Hilary would be sworn in. She would also be at liberty to un-sign any legislation he’s passed (such as his Muslim travel ban or tax cuts) and dismiss any of his appointees, as he would have been governing the country under false pretences.

Again, I know that all sounds radical, but if there’s no punishment and no proper checks and balances, some will do this again and we’ll never ever have a free and fair election.

And there are some profound implications for social media companies too. Facebook are at the centre of this entire scandal and now accused of lying to MP’s. While they have responded by suspending CA from Facebook, this is merely one of a number of recent scandals where it is alleged that Facebook either knew their data was being misused by repressive regimes or they were complicit. And in the case of Burma, Facebook data was used in aid of genocide.

And all that would be worrying enough if it weren’t for the fact that Facebook boss Mark Zukerberg is allegedly running for President. And I had a go at Oprah a while ago! Needless to say, the idea of letting him lose in the White house does not sound like a good idea. It would be about the only thing worse than a Trump presidency.

And facebook are not alone, other tech billionaires are also implicated, notably Robert Mercer (who owns CA) and Paypal boss Peter Thiel. The scandal also puts a new spin on the infamous advert strike effecting Google and Youtube. Its possible that the mysterious changes that Google enacted that provoked the add boycott had something to do with these same data analytic’s, as Google searches have been shown to employ similar profiling in the past.

One fix might be to force tech firms to disclose what data they harvest from users and how they target them with adds. Of course, that would require action at a more international level, at the very least the EU and US….which given recent events seems unlikely to happen….I mean why do you think this lot got into bed with brexiters and Trump for?

And above all else data protection laws need to be strengthened and tightened up. One of the loopholes that CA exploited was the fact that the default privacy settings on Facebook are set extremely low. One could suggest the opposite, they are set by default at their highest possible setting. And companies should be forced to disclose what they are doing with your data and to whom they are sharing it with.

In the meantime it might a case of voting with our feet and showing our displeasure for these tech companies by boycotting their services. I’ve always been suspicious of Facebook and hence I don’t have a Facebook page. If I did I’d be deleting it right now (after telling all my stalkers followers why). Ditto with regard to e-bay and Paypal (which I won’t be using anytime soon). I tend to use synonyms online and if forced into filling in any questionnaire I give deliberately misleading information. Its a practice I’d advise others to copy.

As Carole Cadwalladr, the journalist at the Observer who has been leading their investigation into the scandal puts it:

This is Britain in 2017. A Britain that increasingly looks like a “managed” democracy. Paid for by a US billionaire. Using military-style technology. Delivered by Facebook. And enabled by us. If we let this referendum result stand, we are giving it our implicit consent. This isn’t about Remain or Leave. It goes far beyond party politics. It’s about the first step into a brave, new, increasingly undemocratic world.

How to breach Trump’s wall

daryanenergyblog

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Trump inspected prototype’s of his proposed Mexican border wall this week. During this there was this strange bit of theatre where a group of supposed “special forcestried to climb it but couldn’t get over it. I mean I do a bit of climbing myself and I reckon I could do a better job than these guys.

Professional climber Ed Viesturs reckons it could be breached either using a series of ladders or a combination of dry tooling and aid climbing. Basically, you bash holes in the wall with a rock hammer, drill holes and hammer in pitons. Once the lead climber makes it to the top, he drops a rope, the rest use ascenders (or a rope ladder) to follow him up and then abseil down the other side. So my guess is that this was just a bit of security theatre to massage Trump’s ego…

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Car clubs

daryanenergyblog

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I lost my wee car to an engine bay fire just before Christmas. Rather than buying a new one (I don’t drive alot anyway so I couldn’t really justify the expense), I’ve joined a car club instead. So I thought I’d do a review of my initial car club experience.

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Car club membership has been shown to decrease your carbon footprint (compared to owning a car). While you still have access to a car and do drive, generally the mileage of car club owners is lower (typically 57% lower). Because of the large fixed costs associated with car ownership (typically in excess of £1,000 a year before you’ve even driven a mile) car owners tend to drive everywhere. However freed of those fixed costs, public transport often works out cheaper, encouraging its use.

Also there’s a large carbon footprint associated with the construction and final disposal of a…

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Taming the Trump

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The decision by the North Koreans to seek “peace” with the south and meet with Donald Trump, isn’t quite as unexpected as the media will have us believe. Actually, its a pragmatic solution to tame the Trump….at least until he’s impeached or leaves office by other means (his Russian employers have something of a firm “no witnesses policyas we’ve learnt recently in the UK).

The standard play book for most Republican presidents is crash the economy with a massive tax cut to their billionaire buddies. Then boost one’s poll numbers by bombing some 3rd world dictator. As I’ve mentioned in a previous post, Trump has been banging the war drum, hinting at a show down with North Korea, for some time. Its quite clear that he’s chosen the DPRK as his Iraq.

Of course there’s plenty of good reasons why previous presidents haven’t intervened in North Korea, or indeed why the South Koreans haven’t used their military superiority on the peninsula to take over the north. It would be a bloody mess that would make the chaos of Iraq or Vietnam seem tame by comparison.

And the North Koreans for their part have long adopted a tactic to deter invasion, what the CIA refer to as the crazy gang” gambit, often expressed using the acronym CFC for Crazy, Fearsome and Crippled. The logic is that nobody will attack them because, while there is little doubt the NK army can be defeated, the cost of that victory will be high and the winner will face the enormous costs of essentially rebuilding the country from scratch.

However, the CFC gambit only works so long as everyone else in the room are the grown ups. So with the boss baby in the White house, the threat of millions of deaths aren’t going to stop an egomaniac from starting a war. Hence they’ve had to change tactics. And the South Koreans, also don’t want a war. Much as they dislike North Korea, their long standing policy has been one of containment and wait for the inevitable collapse. This has largely worked, the North is increasingly isolated and estranged, even from China. But they could not run the risk of Trump intervening unilaterally and screwing everything up. Hence, the plan on both sides is to start “talks” even though they know those talks will go nowhere. They then bring in Trump, massage his ego and tie him up in dialogue until his time in office times out.

Will these talks achieve anything worthwhile? Probably not. What both sides want is so far removed from what the other would consider acceptable, its difficult to see a compromise that would please both parties. North Korea wants to be left alone to putter in its sandbox. However, that means the South Koreans (and the west) tolerating them running several of the biggest Mc Mafia outfits on the planet, selling missile technology to 3rd party states as well as pointing thousands of artillery pieces at Seoul.

The North giving up its nuclear weapons is one possibility, however its important to remember why they have those in the first place. Its a legacy of the Iraq war. 5,427 days since G. W. Bush declared mission accomplished (yet the war continues, now the longest & costliest in American history) with WMD’s yet to be found, its pretty obvious the reason for this war wasn’t that Saddam HAD WMD’s. No it was that he DIDN’T have them, but he did have oil. The lesson that Iran and North Korea took away from that war was, if you want to avoid a US invasion, build a nuclear bomb.

But of course, nuclear weapons are only a deterrent to sane people who will place the lives of millions above their own ego. However, giving up its arsenal would leave it open to attack by a future US president, who while vaguely sane, is also republican and looking to boost his poll numbers.

They could do what Iran has done and retreat under the protective umbrella of another nuclear armed state. However, that assumes they trust their neighbours, in particular the Chinese. As I mentioned in a prior post, if North Korea has a motto it would be “with friends like ours, who needs enemies”. And from the South Korean prospective it means instead of them staring across the border at a half starved army equipped with 50’s vintage equipment half of which probably doesn’t work. They’ll instead be facing off against the world’s largest land army equipped with the latest weapon systems that almost certainly do work. So hardly an outcome that they’d go along with either.

So my guess is these talks will be long and drawn out. They might produce some meaningful discussion on key flash points and thus de-escalate the border. The North might even offer to think about giving up its nuclear weapons over a lengthy period. The South might ask the US to withdraw its troops.

But on the whole, the main point of these talks is to prevent Trump from starting a war to save himself from impeachment. Once he’s out of the picture, its possible the talks will break down and normal service will resume.

Does anyone fancy a bespoke kebab?

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So the EU has released its all to predicable terms for the transitional brexit deal, which has sent the brexiters off into a tizzy. Corbyn, meanwhile has had a rare attack of common sense and realised that being leader of the opposition means opposing Theresa May, not supporting her. So he’s aligned labour’s brexit policy to include staying in the common market and thus more in line with what the labour membership want and indeed what the majority of the country wants.

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However, like Theresa May, Corbyn still wants the UK to be treated differently and thus he wants a “bespoke common market deal. We’ve seen numerous possible brexit options jettisoned. The Norway model, the Swiss model and even the Canada model fall by the way side. So we’re now down to the Turkey model for brexit. Or the kebab option as I suspect it will be called shortly. But both the major parties don’t just want any old kebab, they want a “bespoke” kebab.

To draw an analogy, let’s imagine Monsieur Barnier as the owner of a continental delicatessen and in walks May and Corbyn and both ask for a bespoke kebab (which the Tories think they shouldn’t have to pay for). Barnier has no idea what they’re talking about. Yes he did something similar once, as a favour for a Turkish customer, but that was a one off. He suggests they try something else from the menu, there’s the Norwegian stock fish sandwich, Swiss stew or the Canadian bacon special but no bespoke kebab, perhaps you should try Donald’s burger bar down the street (mind you that’s gone downhill since it got taken over by a Russian sushi chain).

May and Corbyn both plan to keep asking for a bespoke kebab over and over again until blue in the face, because shouting loudly at foreigners has worked so well for Britain in getting its way in the past. Obviously what’s actually going to happen is they’ll get thrown out, at which point May scuttle’s off into an alley, bites the head off a rat and sits on a dustbin Gollum style eating it while mumbling something about her “precious”. Corbyn meanwhile plans to stand outside the shop shouting at passers by for his bespoke kebab, until someone from the council comes along and takes him into care.

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Jokes aside, clearly both the main parties negotiating strategy isn’t going to work. Yes, labour’s shift to staying in the custom’s union is infinitely more sensible than the approach of the Tory party. It recognises that Northern Ireland is a place that exists and that a hard border there would be a very bad idea, plus that the UK does this thing called “trade” with the EU. However, as those more familiar with the “Turkey modelpoint out, there’s still checks at the border (trucks can be held up for several hours). The UK will still have to pay into the EU budget. And while yes the UK will be free to negotiate new trade deals with other countries in areas that the common market doesn’t cover, those tend to be the very areas the UK doesn’t WANT to open up its markets (e.g. healthcare, farming, etc.).

The grown up’s solution would be to negotiate a Norway model like arrangement but stipulate it as an interim to medium term solution. The EU would go along with that, they’ll always take a fudge that kicks the can down the road. Longer term the UK could then look at either a 2nd referendum in a decade’s time (after all the old racists have died off) and re-joining the EU. Or if there is a desire for a more radical hard brexit (and again, polls currently show most want a soft brexit), then the option to do that and back out of existing trade arrangements over time will be available.

However, I’m being way too sensible. The problem with such an option, or any of the other possible brexit models is that it requires one to admit that brexit is going to leave the UK worse off.

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In fact, just to keep score, way back in 2011, when brexit was just a twinkle in Beelzebub’s Farage’s eye I put up a post in which I predicted that brexit would threaten the peace of the good Friday agreement (tick) and the union with Scotland (tick). That the UK would have to pay an exit bill (tick) and continue to pay for access to the common market (tick). And that there was no way the EU would allow access to the single market without the UK paying in and retaining freedom of movement (tick). That the UK would need to accept the jurisdiction of the ECJ (tick). And besides, ending freedom of movement probably won’t work because the reasons justifying it are flawed. And “shutting the door” to immigration would just lead to labour shortages and crops rotting in fields.

I also predicted that the UK’s relationship with America would change (either the special relationship would end or we’d become the 51st state, it currently looks like the latter) and the UK’s relations with rest of the commonwealth would suffer (tick). And far from the UK getting “exciting” new trade deals, in “emerging markets“, instead the UK’s going to have to spend decades renegotiating the deals its already got via the EU. And its been made clear by other world leaders (even Trump) that the deal the UK gets won’t be nearly as generous. Indeed, the word from Washington is that regional protection for Cornish pasties, Scotch and Cumberland sausages will have to go, as the price for a UK/US trade deal (I mean who could have known the US would want a trade deal that favours them!).

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And on the economic front, the markets are clearly jittery. There have been several large bankruptcies recently. Just the other day two of the country’s leading retailers collapsed. And there’s a long list of other firms on shaky ground. While these business failures aren’t entirely the fault of brexit, clearly it isn’t helping. And there’s worse to come. Many companies are in holding pattern right now, they are waiting to see the terms of brexit before they make any decision. But its inevitable that there will be some sort of “correction and some significant level of job losses.

In short, everything the remainers warned would happen has happened (or is clearly going to happen). But this is the truth that cannot be spoken by either of the main parties. Brexit is now the official state religion of the UK and speaking ill of it is the equivalent of the Pope coming out to mass on Sunday wearing a Glasgow rangers top and singing a famine song. Brexit is essentially a suicide pact that 37% of the country voted for (without knowing what they were voting for), which will now be implemented on everyone and democracy be damned.

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Again, labour’s policy is more sensible here than the Tory’s, but its still bonkers. Its the classic dilemma of the sweet shop owner v’s the doctor. The doctor wants to cure your cancer with chemotherapy, but the sweet shop owner promises to use chocolate and sweet things which he claims, will not only cure cancer, but all other ills and make you fitter and stronger. So Corybn has to sound like the sweet shop owner, while trying to sell the idea of taking our medicine.

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Of course so long as this impasse lasts, the only winner is going to be the EU. They’ve essentially come out on top at every turn so far, largely because the UK has no real negotiating strategy other than to ask for stuff we can’t get and probably don’t actually want.

Of course the fatal flaw of many in the UK, brexiters, remainers and those in the middle is that they are confusing the EU with someone who actually gives a toss either way. As far as the EU is concerned they have bigger fish to fry right now (climate change, Trump, Russia, Berlusconi, Catalonia, etc.) than deal with the primadonna antics of British politicians.

They’ll try to get an agreement yes, there is some room for compromise. But fundamentally there’s some things they can’t do nor allow. They have been more than clear on that since the very start. And if push comes to shove they’ll just say suit yourselves, c’est la vie and jettison the UK without any agreement.