Monday 14 October 2019

John Downing: 'Vexed issue of Europe claims the head of a fourth Tory PM'


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

John Downing

Keeping tales of Brexit simple is a tall order on a good day. But now that the UK parliament has begun votes on a series of 'definite maybes', we have entered the Byzantine realms of the absurd.

Standing well back, we can, however, tell you that EU issues have triggered the exit of a fourth UK prime minister.

Theresa May has finally told us that once Brexit is sorted, she will be off.

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Alas, the embattled PM could not tell us when, or how, this end will happen. Yet, the strange but true fact is that England's - and here we do mean England, as opposed to Britain or the United Kingdom - European travails have led to the untimely end of four prime ministers: Margaret Thatcher, John Major, David Cameron, and, soon now, Theresa May.

Yes, they have got varying innings as anchor tenants of Downing Street - but in the end their exit was all about the EU. Maggie Thatcher was once a keen Europhile, backing 'Remain' in a 1975 referendum and passionately supporting the border-free single market. But in autumn 1990, her opposition to EU currency moves triggered a successful heave against her.

Her successor, John Major, was boxing off the ropes on European issues from very early on. But his leadership never really recovered from an ill-starred foray into the EC currency grid, the ERM, which ended calamitously on so-called Black Wednesday in September 1992.

His later successor, David Cameron, thought he could resolve this marathon Tory internal European war with a once-and-for-all EU membership referendum in June 2016. He was gone from the UK premiership by breakfast-time on June 24, hours after the results were announced in favour of Leave.

And so to number four, the "Brexit means Brexit" Theresa May. She has made too many errors to enumerate here since she signed in to the job on July 13, 2016.

Now, she has confirmed that she will be off, once she has somehow or other reached a Brexit conclusion. Her exit will be sooner rather than later but we still know not how or when it will end for her.

Nor do we know where Brexit will finally land. You cannot yet definitively rule out the prospect of this unloved prime minister lugging her vastly more unloved EU-UK deal over the ratification line.

But that outcome still looks less likely - even though some Tory uber-Brexiteers, such as Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson, have shown that their very trenchant views were rather lightly held after all.

The UK parliament speaker, John Bercow, remains sceptical about the propriety of holding a vote on Theresa May's Brexit deal this week. Others believe the proposition is sufficiently different from the previous two forays, which suffered crushing defeats, to justify a third run-out.

But what if she does defy all odds, and win through? Well, it would be good news for Ireland's economic interests, opening pathways to a good longer-term story.

Irish Independent

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