Wednesday 21 August 2019

Editorial: 'May and Corbyn can't play politics at a time like this'

Britain's Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn leaves his home as Brexit uncertainty continues in London. Photo: REUTERS/Simon Dawson
Britain's Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn leaves his home as Brexit uncertainty continues in London. Photo: REUTERS/Simon Dawson


It has to be believed that when British Prime Minister Theresa May meets the French and German leaders today on the eve of the emergency European Council summit, she will not be arriving with one arm as long as the other.

With deadlines missed at dizzying speed, and the tension in Europe intensifying, in the UK Mrs May and Jeremy Corbyn appear to have all the time in the world to shoot the breeze.

Brexit was never devised as an excruciatingly dull parlour game to fill the lengthening evenings, but it has become one.

The sense of responsibility and urgency which is the driving force behind tomorrow's crunch meeting is not reflected in the attitudes of Mrs May or Jeremy Corbyn, facing the prospect of an imminent crash-out.

Mrs May speaks of a spirit of accommodation yet has shown no readiness to shift position.

Mr Corbyn sounds agreeable, yet his nonchalant engagement with the most defining moment on the continent for half a century is increasingly unsettling.

Even one of the most steadying and sensible voices in the talks so far, Labour's Keir Starmer, seems to have become infected by the lassitude.

"The ball is in the government's court when it comes to a way forward with Brexit," he breezily surmised yesterday, as if commenting on a desultory afternoon's play at Wimbledon.

Should Mrs May front up once again with nothing to declare other than an update on the continuing turmoil in Westminster, she is sure to get short shrift.

Yet even as the Brexit clock counts the seconds to midnight, Tory grandees were fixating on how they might adapt party rules to engineer another coup against Mrs May, given she had the effrontery to survive their last one.

Most in Europe, and all in Ireland, would be willing to give Mrs May more time, but thrashing about in Westminster in ever-deepening discord is not really helping anyone.

Her visits to both Berlin and Paris must yield evidence of change. For in the absence of an extension, the UK is due to leave the EU at 11pm this Friday.

The solidarity shown by Europe's leaders to the Irish situation was once more reinforced by EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier's visit to Dublin.

Some show of solidarity in the form of agreement is overdue from across the water.

Maturity from Tory and Labour politicians has been lacking for too long.

Brussels can no longer delay its demand for a clear strategy from Mrs May. Only action will silence the hollow echoes from Boris Johnson and Co. In Brussels and Dublin, planning for a possible no-deal scenario is at an advanced stage.

Meanwhile, London still chatters to London, oblivious to the consequences of a crash-out.

Mr Corbyn and Mrs May must recognise if you forfeit the little, you gain the great.

And principles can always be compromised to serve a greater one.

Irish Independent

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