Saturday 19 October 2019

John Downing: 'We've all been waiting for Godot but you know how that ends ...'


French President Emmanuel Macron. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
French President Emmanuel Macron. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
John Downing

John Downing

I know we're not supposed to say things like this, but I always found Samuel Beckett's play 'Waiting for Godot' excruciating. And without further apology, here's a spoiler alert: in the play, Godot never comes.

But at the Brussels conference centre yesterday there was a man you don't hear about every day, the Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, and he was pouring out his Brexit frustrations.

"So, at the moment there are more non-options on the table than options... I sometimes have the feeling that we are in the waiting room, a bit like 'Waiting for Godot'. But Godot never came so I hope this time they will come," the Luxembourg leader said.

Two years and nine months after Brexit was visited on us all, the other 27 EU leaders did show they are human after all.

There was a lot of Brexit weariness as they signalled a short extension - provided Mrs May can reverse her two crushing defeats in a third vote next week.

Leading the hawkish pack was French President Emmanuel Macron. "If there is a negative British vote, we would go towards No Deal," he said.

Even the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar - while munificently urging "a little slack for the entire British establishment" - could not contain his impatience for a result.

"Everyone wants to avoid a No Deal but we can't have a situation whereby we have a rolling cliff edge, where we just put off decisions and deadlines every couple of months," the Taoiseach said.

"Brexit was never going to be clean. Brexit would always require some very hard choices for the United Kingdom to make. It was never going to be all good and no bad. And those decisions now need to be made," Mr Varadkar added emphatically.

So this is how things will roll from here. The EU leaders have given an extension until May 22, the eve of European Parliament elections.

But this is conditional on Mrs May achieving the near-impossible in a House of Commons vote next Tuesday or Wednesday. If she somehow does win that vote, then it's an orderly Brexit on May 22.

If, as is more likely, the vote fails again, we are all headed for even tougher and more uncertain times. The EU leaders have decided to send the UK on its way on April 12 in that case.

For the umpteenth time, they will be saying London must make some proposals. But an abrupt no-deal Brexit will be hard to avoid.

A very long extension, based on a very different UK attitude, might be possible. But it would require big changes - possibly an election or new referendum.

Ireland will need German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose patience is more durable, to dial down the hawkishness which is growing. Overall, there was a feeling last night that Godot - aka Brexit - is really about to arrive at its finale. And there is a sinking feeling that the ending could be tragic.

Irish Independent

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