Monday 18 February 2019

John Downing: 'There are serious questions about whether the Irish Government can cope with what's coming our way'

An anti-Brexit protester clears the area after the result was announced on Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit deal, outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain, January 15, 2019. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
An anti-Brexit protester clears the area after the result was announced on Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit deal, outside the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain, January 15, 2019. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
John Downing

John Downing

NOW we have entered the realms of the dangerously surreal with the economic carnage of a no-deal Brexit only 10 weeks away.

It also comes as there are real questions about the competence of the Irish Government to cope with what may be coming our way.

The extraordinary nature of the UK’s current politics is best seen by Theresa May shipping a level of defeat not seen in the British parliament in almost a century, and yet still continuing in office.

Despite getting few beyond her team on the government payroll to back her draft Brexit deal, a majority of that self-same parliament will tonight vote on their confidence in this lame duck prime minister.

Support: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (left) with European Commission President Jean-Claude
Juncker. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA
Support: Taoiseach Leo Varadkar (left) with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA

Well, 72 days to go to deadline on March 29, the usual suspects are still giving the rhetoricometer a good whirl. Go right back and tell Brussels we want a new deal, the former foreign minister, Boris Johnson, offered in the immediate aftermath of that 432 votes to 202 defeat. The Democratic Unionist Party’s Sammy Wilson was even more gung-ho – he believed something could be done on the backstop but also braced himself for a no-deal Brexit.

So, more stuff and nonsense after two years of very poor fare by the kingpins of British politics over this whole Brexit farrago. There will be no re-negotiation of the Brexit deal, the EU has insisted – and we can believe them. It is likely the UK may yet be able to squeeze more "clarifications" – and there is ample precedent for giving such reassurances some kind of legal status. But the EU will only come up with such devices if there is a real prospect of the UK’s parliament taking a hard-headed stance in backing a deal.

One thing the vote outcome has done is utterly confirm what the UK’s 650 MPs do not want. But their performance so far does not inspire confidence that they can overcome divisions and difficulties and crystallise just what they want from this Brexit process.

It is clear that neither Theresa May nor her Labour counterpart, Jeremy Corbyn, want a new referendum. Despite the large number of mainly Labour MPs backing a re-run of the 2016 referendum, we appear to be some distance from a new vote.

It is now even more increasingly likely that some form of delay in the Brexit deadline will happen. But that, of itself, is problematic with European Parliament elections due at the end of May, less than two months from the deadline. With the UK still technically in the EU, what would happen there?

The level of May’s defeat suggests, however, it would be difficult to massage the EU-UK draft and successfully re-run a ratification vote. We will hear much more of the UK parliament speaker, John Bercow, over the coming days.

He will have a pivotal role forging some kind of parliamentary consensus on where the MPs want this to go. But Brussels will look askance if the MPs continue to frame wishlists adrift from an already done deal.

Online Editors

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