Tuesday 15 October 2019

Editorial: 'Hope of orderly Brexit lost to narrow party agendas'

British Prime Minister Theresa May and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. Photo: REUTERS
British Prime Minister Theresa May and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. Photo: REUTERS


It is to be hoped that at some point in a probably distant future, we will all be able to sink back on soft cushions; and should a child in Britain ask "what does Brexit mean?", there will be a grown-up in the room who can answer. Sadly, both grown-ups and answers seem in short supply.

And right now Brexit exists only as a euphemism for excruciating uncertainty, political turbulence, and economic immolation.

We will soon be able to count the number of weeks to go on one hand. A hard Border, tariffs and disruptive change in almost every facet of life in these islands, now looks more likely than not.

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Donald Tusk got a scalding for saying those who presented Brexit without planning for it merited a cosy corner of hell. But the anger and bemusement in the voices of some of the 3,500 Swindon Honda workers about to be laid off suggests they would probably agree with him.

Nissan and Ford are also reported to be looking at pulling out of the UK. With chaos reigning in Westminster, the focus must swiftly turn to scenario planning for a crash-out.

Yesterday, the Cabinet approved the key features of the Brexit Omnibus Bill. This is the Government's legislative response to a no-deal Brexit situation. It has seemed as if all involved believed that merely talking about it would be enough to make "the bad outcomes" go away.

Calendar years of meaningless meetings were scheduled and opportunities squandered.

Fiction is always more palatable than cold uncomfortable fact, but the fantasy has spun dangerously out of control.

Agatha Christie, once the most popular writer of mystery in Britain, could hardly have contrived a plot with so many feints and false leads.

From the outset, it was as if those charged with the delivery of Brexit in the UK were speaking one language, everyone else another. In one of the 'Parker Pyne Investigates' stories, Christie creates a scene which captures just such a scenario adroitly: "The German pilot had come up and was standing by smiling as Mr Parker Pyne finished answering a long interrogation which he had not understood.

"What have I said?" he asked of the German.

"That your father's Christian name is Tourist, that your profession is Charles, that the maiden name of your mother is Baghdad, and that you have come from Harriet."

A similar level of mutual misunderstanding, confusion and double-speak has characterised dialogue between London and Brussels for the past two-and-a-half years.

With so much lost in translation, and trust, it is hard to imagine any managed outcome.

Issues of national interest have been ignored as both the Conservatives and Labour put their own agendas first.

Brexit was always going to be a challenge. But as the doomsday clock counts down, there is nothing to suggest that either Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn is capable of rising to it.

Irish Independent

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