Saturday 19 October 2019

Suzanne Breen: 1,000 days of Brexit indecision - it’s been a shambles and most of us are sick of it

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: MARK DUFFY/AFP/Getty Images
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: MARK DUFFY/AFP/Getty Images

Suzanne Breen

A thousand days after Brexit and the UK is the laughing stock of the world.

The indecision, incompetence, and cowardliness on display week after week in the House of Commons is a shameful indictment of British politics.

No wonder that a Sky Data poll has found 90pc of British people think the handling of Brexit has been a "national humiliation".

Only a tiny minority - just 7pc - blame Brussels.

Handout image issued by number 10 Downing Street of the letter Prime Minister Theresa May has sent to Donald Tusk requesting an extension to the Article 50 Brexit negotiations until June 30. 10 Downing Street/PA Wire
Handout image issued by number 10 Downing Street of the letter Prime Minister Theresa May has sent to Donald Tusk requesting an extension to the Article 50 Brexit negotiations until June 30. 10 Downing Street/PA Wire

The Government must shoulder much of the responsibility but MPs right across the political spectrum have also played their part in the chaos and confusion.

Whatever side you took in the Brexit debate, eight days before the UK is officially set to leave the EU, this is a shambles.

Many Remainers have acted like spoilt children, refusing to accept that they lost the referendum, and demanding that the rules of the game are now rewritten because they just can't tolerate the result.

Leave may have won the vote but they have hardly covered themselves in glory since their unexpected victory. They have been found totally lacking in strategy and vision, and the division and disunity in their ranks has ill-served their cause.

By contrast, Brussels has handled the situation expertly. It has adopted a simple, straightforward position which has remained relatively unchanged from day one. The predicted bickering and back-biting in its ranks has so far not materialised. The EU has held its nerve, although it hasn't been at all hard.

The chaos in the Commons and the Government's weakness means that Michel Barnier, Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker have never been put under any pressure.

The lack of political nous and leadership shown at Westminster has been startling.

If senior professionals in any other walk of life behaved in a similar way, they'd be out on their ears long ago.

On June 23, 2016, more than 30 million people voted in the referendum. At 72pc, it was the highest turnout for any election in a quarter of a century, and 52pc voted for Brexit. Both the Tories and Labour fought the 2017 Westminster election on the basis that they would respect the referendum result.

People on both sides of the divide are increasingly bored with the endless Brexit argument. Or bored and angry. They are sick of the posturing and pontificating. They just want their politicians to do something.

The Prime Minister's speech last night from Downing Street was dismissed by political observers as anti-climactic.

They expected her to actually announce something - whether it was a new plan, her resignation or a general election. But Theresa May's address will have touched a chord with many ordinary folk.

"Of this I am absolutely sure - you, the public, have had enough," she said. "You're tired of the infighting, you're tired of the political games and the arcane procedural rows.

"Tired of MPs talking about nothing else but Brexit when you have real concerns about our children's schools, our National Health Service, knife crime. You want this stage of the Brexit process to be over and done with. I agree. I am on your side. It is now time for MPs to decide."

The statement was perfectly pitched at those very people whom the polls show are sick of the whole sorry mess Brexit has become.

Mrs May has ratcheted up the pressure on MPs who are likely to again vote on her deal next week. Whether that's enough to secure its passage is another matter entirely. It's 1,001 days from the historic Brexit vote... and counting.

Belfast Telegraph

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