Tuesday 22 October 2019

Colette Browne: 'Before yesterday, Mrs May was in office but not in power. Now she has neither power nor credibility'

Clearing her throat: UK Prime Minister Theresa May at the start of the debate on the second meaningful vote on her government’s Brexit deal in the House of Commons yesterday. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Clearing her throat: UK Prime Minister Theresa May at the start of the debate on the second meaningful vote on her government’s Brexit deal in the House of Commons yesterday. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Colette Browne

Colette Browne

In the end, even Theresa May's voice abandoned her. Her deal is now dead and buried, along with her political career. Mrs May was undone by her own intransigence, dogmatism and divisiveness. Having opted to pursue the hardest Brexit possible, she relied on the fanatical right wing of her party and the DUP for support.

She should have done her research before she threw her lot in with zealots who believe compromise is a synonym for surrender.

No deal except the delusion that was sold to voters during the referendum - leaving the EU yet enjoying the same benefits as members - will ever be good enough for them. Mrs May has lost, but she could never win.

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Nevertheless, her tactics have been deplorable. Having pulled the first, ironically named, "meaningful vote" before Christmas, Mrs May's deal was ­resoundingly defeated by 230 votes on January 15.

Instead of reading the writing on the wall, and reaching out across the chamber, Mrs May instead doubled down. She made a pretence of listening to the views of opponents, summoning leaders of the Labour Party and the SNP to Downing Street for choreographed meetings, but refused to take any of their views on board.

Her strategy? To run down the clock as close as possible to the March 29 deadline in the hope that MPs, fearful of the prospect of no deal or no Brexit, would have little option but to support her deal.

In effect, she opted to play a game of chicken with the EU, driving straight towards it brandishing the lives and livelihoods of the British people as a weapon.

She didn't care that among the collateral damage, if her plan went awry, would be lives and livelihoods in this country too.

Then she got to work raising the public's expectations that she could somehow convince 27 EU countries to move from their red lines, when she steadfastly refused to budge from her own.

After weeks of stalled talks, Mrs May left Strasbourg on Monday night triumphant, declaring she had obtained legally binding changes to the Brexit deal.

So, when her Attorney General Geoffrey Cox announced yesterday that the "amplification and clarification" she had extracted from the EU were functionally useless, it sounded the death knell for her deal and her premiership.

There was no ambiguity about the conclusion of Mr Cox's advice that "the legal risk remains unchanged … [of] no internationally lawful means of exiting the protocol's arrangements, save by agreement". No room in which she could manoeuvre.

When Mrs May rose to her feet in the House of Commons yesterday afternoon, in a last-ditch attempt to persuade MPs to support her, the Tory benches behind her were half empty.

She couldn't even convince her own party members to turn up to hear her pitch, delivered in a strangled croak due to a serious case of laryngitis.

As metaphors go, it was a devastatingly apposite one for the prime minister. For more than two years, she has been unable to find the words to convince parliament to support her deal. At the end, she couldn't even get the words out.

Despite what Mrs May had promised, she could not secure a unilateral exit from the backstop for Britain. She can't say she wasn't warned.

She was repeatedly told by the EU that the Withdrawal Agreement could not be reopened and that giving the British a one-sided escape route from the backstop would render it pointless.

The irony is it is Brexiteers, who insisted that exiting the EU would be easy, who have baulked most at the backstop - which would become operational only if agreeing a trade deal were delayed.

In one breath, they insisted that, in the words of Mrs May, Brexit would be "simples", but in the other opposed an insurance policy that would come into force only if their efforts to negotiate an exit proved more complicated than they thought.

Yet another paradox is that it is DUP members who are most virulently opposed to the backstop - despite the fact a majority of the people of Northern Ireland are in favour of its inclusion in the deal.

The results of an opinion poll at the weekend could not be clearer. Nearly 70pc want Northern Ireland to remain in the single market and the customs union, 60pc want Northern Ireland to have a special deal even if that results in a border on the Irish Sea, 67pc believe the DUP is doing a bad job and 77pc are dissatisfied with Theresa May's government.

Now, the DUP could find that it has lost its leverage. Yesterday, it was an essential part of Mrs May's parliamentary infrastructure, with its votes propping up her government.

Never before have 10 MPs from Northern Ireland wielded so much power in a British government. They have, with the help of a few score members of the ERG, torpedoed the efforts of the EU and the UK to reach an amicable deal.

Mrs May was willing to debase and prostrate herself before her EU counterparts in the hopes of maintaining the DUP's support.

By stabbing her in the back, the MPs may now find they have killed their own exalted position in Westminster along with Mrs May's deal.

Before yesterday's vote, Theresa May was in office but not in power. Today, she clings to office, but she has neither power nor credibility.

It is not tenable for Mrs May to continue the talks with the EU or to lead efforts to put flesh on the bones of the referendum result.

Her deal has been rejected not once, but twice. It is now just two weeks to Brexit and no one is any clearer about the route forward - other than an extension beyond March 29 is a certainty.

Tory MP Charles Walker put it best yesterday when he said that if this British government was a horse it would be taken outside and shot.

It is time to put this government out of its misery. It is riven with rancour, incapable of making any difficult decisions and a serious liability not only to Britain, but to the rest of Europe.

If politics in the UK were in any way ­normal or functional, Mrs May would have slunk from office when her first attempt at securing support for her deal with Europe went down in flames in ­January.

Now that she has abjectly failed to obtain the support of parliament for her revised deal, she has no option but to go.

Irish Independent

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