Monday 21 October 2019

Editorial: 'It's time to face reality and step up no-deal planning'

Mrs May is likely to be history by the middle of next month. Photo: PA
Mrs May is likely to be history by the middle of next month. Photo: PA


The news from London just gets worse - and it is time the Irish Government faced reality and stepped up preparations to cope with a no-deal Brexit this autumn.

On Thursday, the UK voters face the absurd prospect of picking deputies for a parliament which makes laws for an entity they are intent on leaving. This surreal election comes because the UK's political leaders cannot agree on the Brexit terms - and by law all EU member states must hold European Parliament elections over the coming weekend.

The party of UK Prime Minister Theresa May faces huge political losses on Thursday, making her own exit from office and leadership of the Conservative Party swift and inevitable.

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For now, Mrs May is clinging to one final and desperate throw of the dice to allow her to depart politics with some modicum of dignity. She hopes a shocking result for her own party, and for Labour, will make mainstream MPs at Westminster see sense and finally vote at the fourth attempt to ratify the draft EU Withdrawal Agreement she agreed at a special summit on November 25 last.

The move is very much a long shot and Mrs May is most likely to lose for a fourth time early in the week starting on June 3. It is likely that she will have become history by the middle of next month.

A Conservative Party leadership contest will follow. It may well be won by arch-Brexiteer Boris Johnson, or another candidate equally hell-bent on re-negotiating the EU-UK divorce terms. That would see the new UK prime minister returning to Brussels seeking to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement talks.

When that re-negotiation gambit surely fails, we will see a number of other options emerging: there could be a Brexit-themed general election; or, less likely, another Brexit referendum. But a no-deal exit on October 31 will be a real threat - and the default outcome in the absence of anything else.

On April 11, when EU leaders agreed to extend the Brexit deadline until October 31, the chairman of the special leaders' summit, Donald Tusk, made a heart-felt public plea to the UK's political leaders. "Please, do not waste this time," the former Polish premier said.

Details of the leaders' discussions which emerged later showed not everyone was keen on extending Brexit and French President Emmanuel Macron took some convincing. There were strong views among many of the leaders that the only semblance of movement within the UK on resolving its Brexit disagreements came when a deadline loomed close.

Ireland would favour a second extension and may have the support of others such as Germany and Netherlands. An extension for a general election or even a second referendum would be hard to refuse. But nothing can be taken for granted and requires unanimity.

These calamitous events would be building to a climax as Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe was putting the finishing touches to his Budget. Expectations of over 3pc economic growth in 2020 would have to be binned.

Irish Independent

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