Wednesday 26 June 2019

Do they tell you before betraying you? Let's hope it's just rumours


British Prime Minister Theresa May Photo: Reuters/Neil Hall
British Prime Minister Theresa May Photo: Reuters/Neil Hall
John Downing

John Downing

There are bound to be rumours of "EU treachery against little Ireland" as we snake towards news about news of any end to this never-ending Brexit saga.

Labour leader Brendan Howlin, a once and recent minister in several Irish governments, is linked to the larger if embattled European socialist family, and does have good contacts. Mr Howlin said a "very dangerous" suggestion was being made in Europe that the Irish backstop should be postponed or deferred.

Against that, the Tánaiste Simon Coveney was cheek-by-jowl with his EU foreign affairs minister contacts in Luxembourg. And also yet again met the chief Brussels Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, who has been steadfast so far. No change - all good, Mr Coveney insisted.

Do they tell you before they betray you? Maybe not always.

But for now, and in the absence of any other evidence of treachery, and amid many signals of good faith, we should assume no change. Yet it all does add a certain spice to the EU leaders' summit in Brussels this evening which will not be definitive. But its proceedings will be parsed to see how this saga will end, as it must, very soon now.

Let us look at some other straws in the wind.

Theresa May's statement to the London parliament on Monday was in fact surprisingly low-key. She resisted pressure to demand a specific end date for the Irish backstop provisions, which would have killed the deal outright.

The technical negotiations had gone as far as they could and issues around the future of the Irish Border are now really an issue for the 28 EU leaders. This evening, they will avoid any melodrama such as happened when they gathered in Salzburg last month.

The Taoiseach is right when he says the most likely time for a deal is not now but when the EU leaders gather again in November or even December.

Talks continue in Brussels - but the political action remains in London. An EU-UK deal remains feasible - but the question remains: Can Mrs May secure a parliamentary majority for such a deal?

The answer among those wishing for one is that she might, if she can eradicate false choices. Right now, MPs on both sides of the debate are vowing to reject the deal Mrs May is working for, because they believe they can get something better. As we approach the deadline, these multiple delusions should disappear.

She will in all likelihood present a "deal - or no deal" option to Westminster. It is an effort to whittle down the most extreme and impractical of the uber-Brexiteers, and it's her main chance of battering through.

At this distance it's hard to reckon her chances. But there is something notable in Mrs May's persistence and courage.

After that London parliament confrontation things could go in many directions. We shall return to these.

Irish Independent

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