Friday 22 March 2019

Kevin Doyle: 'We might have backed wrong horse by placing blind faith in May as she rides towards a cliff'

Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar TD and the UK Prime Minister Theresa May Photo: Maxwell
Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar TD and the UK Prime Minister Theresa May Photo: Maxwell
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

There's a joke going around that everybody wants Theresa May to be prime minister, with the exception of a majority of the UK electorate and herself.

She has had a torrid two years steering the British chariot towards a cliff while being jeered from the sidelines by all and sundry.

But throughout that time the Irish Government has steadfastly done its best to keep her in power. Very often that required Leo Varadkar and Simon Coveney to keep their mouths shut when they should have been pointing out some obvious truths.

From a long way back, the Irish side decided their best chance of getting a decent Brexit deal complete with the backstop was Mrs May. They bet the all-island economy on her. In fairness look at the alternatives.

Standing together: From left, European Affairs Minister Helen McEntee, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Mairead McGuinness MEP during an all-island civic dialogue on Brexit at Dublin Castle yesterday. Photo: Gareth Chaney
Standing together: From left, European Affairs Minister Helen McEntee, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Mairead McGuinness MEP during an all-island civic dialogue on Brexit at Dublin Castle yesterday. Photo: Gareth Chaney

However, it's time to ask whether we backed the wrong horse. Did the Irish Government place blind faith in someone who is just the same as the rest of them?

Mrs May prides herself on being a 'bloody difficult woman' but Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg are equally difficult men. We have now reached a point where the two sides have neutered each other in the House of Commons.

But the prime minister is technically in the driving seat. She is the one who devised an excruciatingly narrow definition of Brexit that is dissected with red lines.

It was the vicar's daughter who did a deal with the EU. Initially it was the best deal in town. Now she seems to think it's a working document. There was shock in Dublin at the end of January when Mrs May decided to back a vote which mandated her to seek changes to the Withdrawal Agreement.

Negotiating the deal over the course of two years had been both tedious and tension-filled - but politics found a way.

Privately, Irish officials were furious when Mrs May went back on it. The word 'betrayal' was never uttered publicly but it was in frequent use behind closed doors in Government Buildings.

The problem with the prime minister is that she talks tough but acts weak. That applies to her dealings with both the EU and the hardline Brexiteers in her own party.

The signs of weakness have been there from the start. After replacing David Cameron as Conservative Party leader she sought to bring everybody together by appointing hardliners to her cabinet. They played her along for a while, quitting when they could get maximum headlines.

She triggered Article 50 in March 2017 without any coherent strategy for how to negotiate with the EU.

Then there was the snap election where she ran under the ironic banner of 'Strong and Stable'. She was neither.

Then Mrs May clung to power by getting into bed with the DUP, seemingly oblivious to the impact that would have on the Brexit negotiations.

A column in the 'Financial Times' yesterday talked about how Britain is now being "held hostage to Mrs May's vanity".

All the while the Irish Government continues to believe she is the right person to have leading the UK. It swallowed the line that it is her or Labour's Jeremy Corbyn.

Asked yesterday what he makes of the role Corbyn is playing in the whole fiasco, Mr Varadkar told a reporter that he had many thoughts on the issue but would be more keen to share them over a drink than in front of the cameras.

He described Mrs May as "sincere" and instead focused his ire on the rump of Tory MPs who are making life difficult for her.

But this weekend the prime minister is continuing to try to abandon her deal at the behest of the loud minority. Mr Coveney accepted yesterday she is trying to keep her party together but also indicated he trusts her to do the right thing in the end. We can only hope that blind faith is rewarded.

Irish Independent

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