Sunday 22 September 2019

Editorial: 'Bitter Reality of Brexit hard to swallow for many'

Pressure: British Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: REUTERS
Pressure: British Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: REUTERS


It is hard to look on the omnishambles Brexit became and not recall the words of Baron Denning: "The House of Commons starts its proceedings with a prayer. The chaplain looks at the assembled members with their varied intelligence and then prays for the country."

Those prayers will be sorely needed today. Theresa May could hardly postpone her confrontation with the inevitable any longer. The day the British prime minister finally got to come face-to-face with her fears.

"Deal or no deal," that is the question for her minority government on a cliff-edge.

Political leaders sooner or later find themselves having to accept conditions as they exist, or accept the responsibility for changing them. To date, we were told: all was precariously balanced on two options; a hard, or soft Brexit. In truth, this was all so much wishful thinking.

But within the Tory party and the DUP, it was always going to come down to the Kenny Rogers option: Knowing when to hold, when to fold, when to walk away, and when to run like the clappers of hell. Only then would Mrs May comprehend whether she stood on solid ground or quick-sand. All must still go before the House to be further dissected. And should the draft agreement survive the vivisection, Mrs May will have outdone Houdini in the annals of escapology. If, after elections, voters are rarely given applause, with referendums appreciation for the bitter fruits of their labours is scarcer still.

Therefore, while Tony Blair's increasingly plaintive appeals for a second referendum may be echoed by many, they have yet to catch fire. He finds it "gut-wrenching" Labour is not leading the call for another vote.

He may also well be right in saying left-wing populism is not the answer to counter the populism of the right. But Brexit, as we have said before, was always a destructive genie and containing the damage is the best we can hope for.

The IMF's grim warning that Ireland, more than any other, serves to lose most from a disorderly Brexit is timely.

For all that, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar feels Irish requirements for the backstop have been met. He is right to insist a guarantee of no hard Border can have no expiry date, and neither side can withdraw unilaterally.

It must remain "unless and until" it is replaced with something better.

And therein lies the challenge for the redoubtable Brexiteers. After 45 years of trade agreements and 20 years of peace on these islands, Whitehall and Westminster must come to terms with the fact freedom, even from the EU, must be earned. One UK commentator described the deal as a dog's breakfast, but still the best thing on the menu.

Consequences, especially those wilfully unseen, are always hard to swallow.

Irish Independent

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