Thursday 17 October 2019

Editorial: 'Brexit still in limbo, but the mood music is a bit sweeter'

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar


If you have ever wondered what language they speak in Limbo, it is probably some dialect of Brexitese. Phrases like "unless and until", "fluid borders", "hard borders", "backstops" and "easiest deal ever" are likely to echo around its labyrinthine back lanes and alleys.

Pedants will immediately point out that Limbo was abolished by the Vatican back in 2007 after 800 years. By some miracle of warped politics and inert thinking, Brexit has found itself trapped there since that fateful vote in June 2016.

With just four weeks to go until the deadline, it is anyone's guess what exactly will happen at the end of the month.

The law of unintended consequences hasn't gone away, as we saw with the seizure of two trawlers from the North for allegedly breaching fishing regulations.

Sense prevailed, and the two relieved skippers were released, but the contretemps was a vignette of just how anarchic and unpredictable the future could look if some sense of stable order is not arrived at.

The alacrity with which our Government sought to calm the situation sufficiently alarmed southern fishermen to caution there should be no rush to address the anomaly in the law which led to the arrests until a post-Brexit agreement guaranteed reciprocal rights for Irish boats in British waters.

It is hoped sense will win out and such arrangements can be made, but like Limbo, Brexit seems to exert its own gravity, and it would be foolish to take anything for granted.

Consensus suggests some kind of codicil will be introduced to reassure the DUP and hard Brexiteers that the backstop is not a bear-trap to keep Britain from escaping the EU. If this can be done without undermining the Good Friday Agreement, fair enough.

But Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who was over the Border yesterday, will know he must balance concessions with his pledge to defend the interests of Irish citizens in the North.

It is clear Theresa May made three disastrous calls. The first was to hold an election and lose her majority in June 2017.

Matters were made worse by her insistence on drawing red lines all around her with the Chequers agreement.

Her third major blunder was to concentrate on saving the Tories, instead of reaching across party lines in the national interest.

Having burned every other bridge, she may at last have stumbled upon a path where progress can be made.

A no-deal Brexit at least now looks less likely. The mood music has changed slightly, a tentative engagement with Labour has begun. It ought to have started a year ago.

Agreement on anything still looks elusive. We are still far from sure when the UK will leave, or on what terms. The tune may be different, but we may still be Limbo dancing.

Irish Independent

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