Sunday 21 April 2019

Editorial: 'May must compromise if she is to finally sort Brexit mess'

Theresa May would not be granted a delay without a “concrete plan”. Photo: PA
Theresa May would not be granted a delay without a “concrete plan”. Photo: PA


Fumbling about in the dark can be fun, but it gets risky if it goes on too long and there is a possibility of people being hurt.

So there was some relief when Michel Barnier found the light switch on Brexit yesterday.

Theresa May may have been exposed in a compromising position, along with many leading Brexiteers caught with their pants down.

But someone had to signal an end to the orgy of chaos. Insisting on illumination, the normally imperturbable Mr Barnier adopted a steely tone. Mrs May would not be granted a delay without a "concrete plan".

And so time is up. As Churchill pointed out: men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.

Such has certainly been the case concerning Mrs May, the DUP and a bevy of Tory grandees entrusted with the orderly exit of the UK from the EU.

It has been anything but orderly. If John Bercow had already plunged the government into a constitutional crisis by informing Mrs May she cannot keep returning to the House with the same deal, the message was hammered home by Mr Barnier's ultimatum.

Mrs May had plumped for a three-month delay, with a possible extension of two years.

But after two and a half years of going around in ever-increasing circles, the EU was dizzy going nowhere.

Michael Roth, Germany's Europe minister, said member states were "really exhausted" by the UK's approach, warning the situation was "not just a game".

Mr Barnier made it plain that Mrs May cannot request a Brexit delay which can be shortened or extended at a later date. "It is one or the other, isn't it," he said.

Mrs May is in an unprecedented position. She has now lost control of her party, the Commons and Brexit; yet she is still in charge of managing the most critical decision made by the UK since the war.

Sympathy for her will be tempered by a blank refusal to move her red lines.

A shift towards some kind of gainful uncertainty, even if it required a leap in the dark, might have been transformational, instead of wallowing in painful paralysis.

Tomorrow the EU Council will meet and Mrs May finds herself pleading for extra time.

But this must be more than a pity party for one.

It is not too late to recognise solutions are not found by pointing fingers but by extending hands.

Mrs May has finally been forced to concentrate on delivering something new, something tangible. Labour and the whole house must have a role.

In any agreement, if you wish to get what you want, you must also heed what others need.

Mrs May did not get herself so irredeemably lost by following paths of reason, but by straying from them. We must hope she can find a way back.

Irish Independent

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