Sunday 16 June 2019

Kevin Doyle: 'Brexit faces will change - but issues all remain the same'

Heading for the door: Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May leaves after announcing her resignation outside 10 Downing Street in London yesterday. Photo: Tolga Akmen/Getty
Heading for the door: Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May leaves after announcing her resignation outside 10 Downing Street in London yesterday. Photo: Tolga Akmen/Getty
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

In the end, Theresa May just faded into the background. Out-shouted by her backbenchers and out-flanked by her Cabinet, it was obvious for some time that power was ebbing away.

But back in April, EU leaders gave her one last chance to get the Withdrawal Agreement over the line.

French President Emmanuel Macron was sceptical that May could make any meaningful progress but agreed to give her until October 31.

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Sources say that few people at the EU summit actually believed May would make it to Halloween herself. However, they hoped that her final act might be to secure an orderly Brexit.

Sadly, her final act as Conservative Party leader will actually be to host US President Donald Trump.

The news didn't come as a shock but it has opened up new fault lines between the UK and EU.

British politics is entering a phase that could be "very dangerous" for Ireland, the Taoiseach warned shortly after the prime minister's resignation was confirmed.

Irish officials are worried about the impending changes among the top brass in the EU that will follow this weekend's elections.

EU Council President Donald Tusk and EU Parliament President Jean-Claude Juncker are on their way out.

And it is even possible that the man with more knowledge of the Border situation than anybody else, Michel Barnier, could move on.

"Whatever happens, we are going to hold our nerve, we are going to continue to build and strengthen and deepen our alliance across the European Union, and we will make sure we see Ireland through this," Mr Varadkar said.

The Irish view is that the people might be changing but the issues are the same as ever.

Even before the Brexit referendum then-Taoiseach Enda Kenny was talking about the risks to the all-island economy and the Border. Two prime ministers later we will still be focused on these problems.

A source said "we know the solution but those in the UK don't seem willing to accept it".

Ireland will argue that whoever takes over from May must still be a co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement. That means acknowledging there can be no return to a hard Border. However, at least one of those in the running to take over, Dominic Raab, admits he hasn't even read the short document that brought peace to this island two decades ago.

Outside of these isles, the reaction to May's announcement was somewhat more mooted. Yet there was also an understanding that it makes life a whole lot more difficult for all involved.

Other EU capitals are desperate to move on the from the Brexit stalemate. They are not nearly as patient as us because they have less on the line.

Spain's caretaker government says that May's departure is "bad news" because it will make a "hard Brexit" more likely.

Mr Macron has praised the outgoing prime minister for her "courageous work" on Brexit.

"It's too soon to speculate on the consequences of this decision," Macron said. "France is ready to work with the new British prime minister on all European and bilateral issues."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel noted "with respect" the decision and committed to working closely with her successor for an orderly Brexit.

Even Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, a frequent critic of May, says she is worried May's decision will bring "an even more hardline" Brexit-backer to power.

May didn't make one fatal error, she made many that eventually combined to ensure her premiership will be remembered as a rolling disaster. Her snap election in June 2017 was meant to be an empowering moment but resulted in a confidence and supply arrangement with the DUP.

Article 50 was triggered without any plan for what Brexit would be. The 'intention to leave' letter was voluntarily signed by May in March 2017.

For the following two years she was incapable of stopping her own party from tearing itself apart and refused to engage with the opposition.

Sources in Dublin say among her biggest problems was that she never sold her 'wins'.

The EU never wanted a UK-wide backstop but eventually 'caved' on the issue. That should have been a big turning point for May.

Instead we are still left wondering what Brexit means.

Irish Independent

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