Friday 18 October 2019

John Downing: 'A new mess is piled upon the old one amid total confusion'


A view of the Palace of Westminster. Stock picture
A view of the Palace of Westminster. Stock picture
John Downing

John Downing

Hands up. You can write your own end to this non-stop melodramatic farce with every chance of being right.

There are no more experts. Everybody is merely picking from a long menu of options as utter confusion prevails.

The Brexit mess gets worse with each passing day. And with nine days to the witching hour of 11pm Dublin time on March 29, it all remains as clear as mud.

Tomorrow, EU leaders gather in Brussels for what would have been their last summit before Brexit happened. Everybody concerned had hoped this meeting would be dealing with more concrete outcomes.

But in many ways we are as wise as we were in that dismaying dawn of June 24, 2016, when we learned that our nearest neighbour, and very significant trading partner was parting company with the EU, the place upon which we staked such a major chunk of Ireland's future.

It is worth noting that the status of Northern Ireland is not up for grabs. The nightmare notion that Ireland would face pressure to cave in to UK demands at this point has happily not happened.

But, against that, a no-deal Brexit means that all bets are off. Ireland's hard-won Brexit gains could yet be set at nought.

But, having lamented the extent of confusion and ignorance facing us, it is time to review what we do know.

The brutal reality is that a no-deal crash-out Brexit cannot be ruled out. But more happily, it is not likely just yet.

Theresa May will go to Brussels seeking an extension up to at least June 30 as she persists with the faint hope that she can lug her unloved EU-UK divorce over the line of Westminster parliamentary ratification.

The other EU leaders are weary, but they are far from stupid. While they will concede nothing easily to the UK in terms of a delay, they will listen to German Chancellor Angela Merkel's counsel that delay is better than a no-deal Brexit for everybody concerned.

On the devil's advocate side, French President Emmanuel Macron will be warning that this may be postponing the inevitable evil day. EU diplomats ruefully note that the UK did no real negotiations until the deadline stared them in the face.

The London-to-London debate, which should have happened in 2015-2016, really only happened when Mrs May came back with her draft Withdrawal Agreement on November 25 last. Facing that reality is a realpolitik view that a long delay could merely renew the political sclerosis.

There are many complications in the path of an orderly outcome to this Brexit farrago. The European Parliament elections are a major obstacle-turned-bargaining chip. Interestingly, the parliament's own lawyers believe it can be got around - but experts in the European Commission and Council trenchantly argue that for a longer delay, the UK must hold these elections... before they leave - or maybe not.

This confusion will roll and roll.

Irish Independent

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