Friday 23 August 2019

Editorial: 'After the elections Brexit looms again'

'The analysis is correct that the departure of Theresa May as British prime minister makes greater the likelihood of a more hard-line Brexiteer prime minister, and, it follows, a hard or no-deal Brexit, described by some in Europe as now an
'The analysis is correct that the departure of Theresa May as British prime minister makes greater the likelihood of a more hard-line Brexiteer prime minister, and, it follows, a hard or no-deal Brexit, described by some in Europe as now an "unstoppable reality."' Photo: PA
Editorial

Editorial

Now that the European and local elections are over, some thoughts may turn to a general election - but events in the UK last week, alongside the yet to be fully determined results of elections throughout Europe, make this an inopportune time to even consider the prospect of a change of government with so many uncertainties around, particularly in relation to Brexit.

The analysis is correct that the departure of Theresa May as British prime minister makes greater the likelihood of a more hard-line Brexiteer prime minister, and, it follows, a hard or no-deal Brexit, described by some in Europe as now an "unstoppable reality". Such an outcome would be disastrous for Ireland, and the UK, as well as for Europe itself.

First things first, however: the full membership of the European parliament is required to be known. At this point, it is expected that the feared rise of populist politicians will not materialise as widely expected, and that is to be welcomed. After that, all eyes will be on the election of a new Conservative Party leader in the UK. Again, the assessment seems accurate that the Conservatives will elect a hard-line Brexiteer, although that should not be taken as read at this stage. The possibility remains that events will conspire to provide a leader capable of reasonable compromise which is needed to allow the UK and the EU to move on.

The word "compromise" has been in short supply throughout the Brexit negotiations. In Dublin, the immediate message was that "nothing has changed" in relation to the Government's Brexit strategy, specifically on the Withdrawal Agreement, including the backstop.

On one hand, it is not difficult to understand why the Government here, and the EU, in its immediate response to the announced resignation of Mrs May, adopted a 'nothing has changed' attitude on Brexit. However, it is unwise to adopt a totally immovable position at this stage. If compromise is to mean anything, it must mean that an arrangement should be found to avoid a no-deal Brexit at all costs. It would be sensible for all sides to take a step back pending the clearing of smoke, and approach the new dispensation, in Europe and the UK, in a calm and wise manner.

On the domestic front, the outcome of the European and local elections may give rise to growing demands for change, particularly among opposition TDs anxious to remove the current Government. The Fianna Fail leader, Micheal Martin, can be expected to come under pressure from within his parliamentary party and wider political organisation. While there are undoubtedly several messages to be drawn from the results of the elections, not least the rise of the Green Party, one issue remains clear: with Brexit entering a new and critical phase over the next five months, it is not in the national interests to have a general election at this time.

These elections have been a useful exercise of the democratic process; the summer months beckon, followed by a budget, and then the Withdrawal Agreement denouement. These events must be fully and skilfully played out here before voters should turn to the wider picture.

Sunday Independent

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