Friday 15 December 2017

Decision adds more haze to an already cloudy Brexit picture

British Prime Minister Theresa May Photo: Hannah McKay/PA Wire
British Prime Minister Theresa May Photo: Hannah McKay/PA Wire
Colm Kelpie

Colm Kelpie

Wrapping up the all-island Brexit forum this week, Minister Charlie Flanagan said the Government was working to prepare for the "softest of soft Brexits, to the hardest of hard Brexits".

He was highlighting just how little clarity we have, four months since the Brexit vote. There has been much talk about the end game when Article 50 is triggered, but at this point we are still pretty hazy on what the reality will look like.

The decision by the High Court in London yesterday doesn't change that one bit.

What it does do is make those preparations a little more difficult, adding as it does another level of haze to the landscape.

Because it seems likely that Article 50 will still end up being triggered, despite yesterday's decision.

The Government here was working on the assumption that Theresa May would be formally kicking off the divorce process before the end of March, possibly even as early as next month, as the Taoiseach pointed out at the Kilmainham Brexit forum on Wednesday.

London's High Court has ruled she can't do that without the approval of the British parliament. The UK government has said it would be appealing the decision to the Supreme Court.

It is expected that the Supreme Court will consider the case early next month.

If the Government loses that appeal and is forced to put a vote to parliament, it throws up the possibility that there could be a delay in formally starting the negotiation process beyond Ms May's end-of-March deadline, amid suggestions that legislation might even be needed.

There's even speculation of another general election. So a delay is possible.

And parliament could, in theory, block Brexit as most MPs supported staying in the EU in a referendum in June.

But will those same MPs now potentially risk the wrath of their voters by going against the popular vote, the will of the electorate, especially those who hail from constituencies that voted in favour of a Brexit? Don't count on it.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who took a lukewarm approach to the referendum campaign to begin with and was heavily criticised, has already said his party respects the referendum result.

And in Northern Ireland the Ulster Unionist Party, which favoured a Remain vote, has said that its two MPs would vote in favour of the UK-wide result and back the triggering of Article 50.

It all depends on the actual question that will be asked, of course.

If it's a straight yes or no to triggering Article 50, the answer will probably be 'off you go Theresa'.

But if it's more than this, for example a broader debate that could provide a say on the negotiating stance which the prime minister has been under pressure to allow, that might give those same MPs a little cover to influence whether the exit is hard or soft.

This could be good for Ireland if the latter position is pursued. Corbyn has already seized on the need for increased scrutiny.

As one commentator noted yesterday, UK voters opted for a departure, but not for a destination.

For the Government here, there remains little clarity, and the machinations across the water changes things very little for now.

And Taoiseach Enda Kenny made that clear yesterday.

This is a matter for the prime minister, he said, ahead of a meeting of party leaders in Stormont.

"Irrespective of the decision that they [UK Government] make, we have to concentrate on what our priorities are, and work together in the interests of the common benefits of the economies of the people North and South," he said.

Irish Independent

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