Opinion Editorial

Saturday 23 March 2019

Editorial: 'Breakaway MPs more a tremor than necessary earthquake'

Former minister Anna Soubry. Photo: Yui Mok/PA
Former minister Anna Soubry. Photo: Yui Mok/PA


How frequently have the words 'I know what I'm doing' prefaced political disaster? Right-wing Tories armoured themselves with such indefatigable confidence, only the certifiably insane would dare a doubtful glance in their direction.

Consequently, lukewarm Brexiteers and ardent Remainers within Conservative ranks kept their counsel. They observed the sort of decorous distance recommended between the porcupine and the balloon.

Not any more. Former minister Anna Soubry and her two colleagues issued a stark declaration that the Conservative Party was "over" and the hard-right had won. By aligning themselves with the breakaway group of eight British Labour independents, they have at the very least created a temporary wedge to stop the door being slammed on reason and practical common sense in the political bedlam of Westminster.

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They now have more MPs in parliament than the DUP, and equal the number of Liberal Democrats.

But apart from three formidable MPs, Theresa May has also lost whatever remaining credibility she may have had in Brussels to sell a deal.

There is a faint hope that Ms Soubry's scorching criticism of "the anti-EU awkward squad" running the party from top to bottom may be just the jolt needed to reconsider before going off a cliff.

Already branded "Blue Wednesday", the departures have reduced Mrs May's working majority to seven. The three insisted there were "absolutely" other colleagues "keen" to join the group.

In a letter to Mrs May, they said: "We no longer feel we can remain in the party of a Government whose policies and priorities are so firmly in the grip of the ERG and DUP."

They also cited a "dismal failure" to stand up to the hard-line European Research Group, which "operates openly as a party within a party, with its own leader, whip and policy". It is as searing an indictment of Mrs May's stewardship as could have been penned.

The Independent Group welcomed the new members, saying: "Both our parties are broken."

The total failure to either lead or drive in both Labour and the Conservatives, 36 days from Brexit, is astonishing.

This sense of bemusement was evident in a question put by the Labour chairman of the Brexit Committee, Hilary Benn, yesterday.

He asked what possible justification there was for the UK government planning for a no-deal Brexit, given that "its own economic assessment shows it would have the most damaging impact on the British economy. How could such an act of economic self-harm ever be justified?"

So far, the silence to such questions has been total. It is probably expecting too much of the Independent Group to be the catalyst so sorely needed to transform the situation.

The BBC's assessment of the emergence of the new bloc as likely to be more of a tremor than political earthquake sounds about right. Yet on the ever-darkening horizon Brexit presents, any sign of light, however faint, will be seized upon.

Irish Independent

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