Wednesday 27 March 2019

Gerard O'Regan: 'MPs of an independent mind can free us all from dogma of the Brexiteers'

'Despite all the turbulence, Ian Paisley Junior suggests there is a simple answer to this whole Brexit quandary.' Photo: PA
'Despite all the turbulence, Ian Paisley Junior suggests there is a simple answer to this whole Brexit quandary.' Photo: PA

Gerard O'Regan

We have been travelling through a tortuous maze, going to and fro, left and right, backwards and forwards, and all the while seeking the pathway which at its end has the sign: 'Brexit - The Final Act.'

We have arrived. Matters are suddenly taking on a life of their own. A destination point of sorts is at hand. Soon this maze will be no more - although we may well enter a new one. But the final throes of this Brexit phase are about to be played out.

The pressure cooker wrought by what has seemed a drama without end, has pushed some British politicians to breaking point. The decision by a number of Conservative and Labour MPs to ditch their respective parties - and form a new Independent group in the Commons - may have been an accident waiting to happen. But all involved realise they may be writing their political obituary.

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These MPs are in uncharted waters. Could their decision be a harbinger of a new political party? Or will their undoubted act of communal courage eventually warrant a mere footnote to Brexit-inspired brinkmanship?

Ending the hegemony of the Conservative and Labour powerhouses will be a gargantuan task. The British first-past-the-post voting system makes it nigh impossible for any new grouping to make a real and permanent breakthrough.

But the real significance of the departure of three Tory MPs is in the here and now. The likelihood is it will prompt others to do likewise unless Theresa May changes course. Fighting a relentless rearguard action, the British Prime Minister's room for manoeuvre is now close to zero.

She has spent most of her time appeasing right-wing hardliners in the Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson camp. But in the process she has alienated the middle ground.

This latter grouping of moderates are finally making a stand. From an Irish perspective this is good news - and not before its time. The moderates are providing a much-needed counter balance to the forceful dogma of the extremists.

Some in the re-energised centre, if given a personal choice, would like to abandon Brexit altogether. Others acknowledge some form of exit from the EU must go ahead, given this was the wish of the British people in the referendum result.

However, they are vehement voters did not plump for a crash-and-burn, no-deal departure leading to widespread job losses.

These moderates are not as hung up on the infamous backstop as their extremist colleagues. Some argue the entire UK should remain in the EU's customs union and single market, ensuring the question of a hard Border in Ireland simply does not arise.

What was significant about the departing MPs is how they loathe some of the hardliners in the party. One referred scathingly to an infamous comment by Boris Johnson when he uttered the phrase "f**k business". Johnson was giving vent to his disdain for those in manufacturing and allied sectors, where there is acute concern about Brexit-induced unemployment.

Buttressed by private family wealth - as is the case with Jacob Rees-Mogg and others in this cabal - Johnson's cavalier approach to the less fortunate outraged less strident parliamentary colleagues.

So matters remain on a knife edge between the two wings of the Conservative Party. May's core problem is that every action she takes to please one side alienates the other.

Given such uncertainty, there remains an ongoing risk the UK will tumble out of the EU without a deal. This is Ireland's nightmare scenario.

Yet events of recent days provide yet more evidence there is simply not enough support for this option in the Commons. The fact the moderates are finally making their presence felt may be the ultimate safety valve for ensuring common sense will win out in the end.

Meanwhile, would-be kingmakers, the DUP, who hoisted their sails to the "not an inch" tailwind, run a real risk of being cut adrift.

But despite all the turbulence, Ian Paisley Junior suggests there is a simple answer to this whole Brexit quandary. EU chiefs should say to Leo Varadkar, "Listen, mate, you have had enough fun with the politics of this; it is now time to get along with the real deal."

Such insight. Such vision. Such talent for high-level diplomacy.

Irish Independent

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