Monday 16 September 2019

Editorial: 'Caught in a netherworld amid a dearth of wisdom'

'John Major has aligned himself with a legal bid to block the suspension of Parliament.' Photo: PA
'John Major has aligned himself with a legal bid to block the suspension of Parliament.' Photo: PA


Dickens liked to refer to Westminster as the national cinder heap. Remainers, who saw many of their hopes in ashes this week, would probably agree.

There is an unwritten rule in democracy that three stupid ones will always out-vote two smart ones - so it would seem.

This week the plight of the Speaker William Lenthall was remembered. It was he who stood in the path of King Charles and his guards when they went to Westminster Palace to arrest a group of MPs.

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Refusing to yield to what he believed were traitors, he said: "I have neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in this place but as the House is pleased to direct me whose servant I am here."

As the drama intensifies with no side willing to yield, we trust there are sufficient eyes to see and tongues to speak.

But we would dearly love to hear something constructive from them, if they are out there.

Business Minister Heather Humphreys was pulling no punches when she warned: "A crash-out is less than nine weeks away. Against this backdrop, I'm appealing to you to act now to protect your businesses and employees." And in London, Boris Johnson was finishing a €100m advertising blitz to unleash a barrage of dire no-deal warnings.

The signs of pressure are beginning to tell, with Tánaiste Simon Coveney saying Mr Johnson's position was totally unreasonable.

So far, he said, he has seen nothing credible from the Conservatives. He appealed for viable alternatives. There appear to be none. And so the downward spiral accelerates alarmingly. Convulsions in the UK have two former prime ministers, from opposite sides, attacking the incumbent. Gordon Brown accused Mr Johnson of "shredding the constitution". Britain is being torn into pieces by "competing nationalisms", and reconciliation will take "years if not decades", he warned.

John Major has aligned himself with a legal bid to block the suspension of Parliament.

Despite the dearth of wisdom in Westminster, there may be a hope it might seep in from the street. This weekend, hundreds of thousands of people are expected to march in disruptive protests against prorogation.

So where are we? Caught in a netherworld between project fear and project make- believe, it seems. The backstop is not up for renegotiation, the UK says there are other options but provides no details.

The UK consistently speaks of "our friends and partners" in Ireland and the EU.

But with so much hanging on an edge, one thing which can actually be said with certainty, and which should be kept in mind, is there is nothing like a messy divorce to make short work of friends and partnerships.

Irish Independent

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