Saturday 20 July 2019

Editorial: 'May sounds cavalry charge doomed to end in defeat'

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May speaking to members of the House of Commons in London. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May speaking to members of the House of Commons in London. Photo: AFP/Getty Images


Deaf to the increasingly abrupt dismissals of endless entreaties to "bin the backstop", Theresa May has assumed the guise of a latter-day Lord Cardigan, intent on another charge of the Tory Light Brigade on Brussels.

Rob Watson, the BBC's World Service political correspondent, does not do hyperbole, yet yesterday he was describing Mrs May's behaviour as "astonishing, critics might say desperate". The British prime minister's announcement - with less than two months to go until Brexit day - that she plans to renegotiate the treaty on Britain's withdrawal was so stunning because she had insisted it was utterly impossible.

Let's not forget the Withdrawal Agreement was tailored to meet her wishes.

It's taken two years of red-eyed and raw-throated negotiations to get it over the line. The backstop was specifically engineered to accommodate her requirements: twice signed off and subsequently altered to give her more wriggle-room within the crawl space of her very own red lines. The absurdity of seeking to renegotiate something she herself divined would at any other time be called out.

Even allowing that normality has been suspended since the dark spell of Brexit first took hold, Mrs May's increasingly reckless flights in the face of reason make a crash landing ever more likely.

She may well be writhing in the death agonies of political leadership and therefore hoping to breathe new life into a party tearing itself apart. Such behaviour might be excusable through the prism of merely saving the Conservatives. However, her country is facing its biggest crisis since WWII. This is not just a Tory crisis - the UK, Ireland and EU will all suffer.

Her obdurate insistence on reaching in to find a solution amongst the hardliners within her ranks, means she has spurned the only real prospect of gaining agreement, which lies in reaching out, across party lines.

One of the seminal moments in this sorry story came this week when a clearly exasperated EU negotiator, Sabine Weyand, bluntly declared negotiations on the backstop were closed, fermé, geschlossen.

With undisguised frustration, she noted discussions in Westminster were "uninhibited by any knowledge of what is in the Withdrawal Agreement".

There are no alternatives because alternatives do not exist, she added.

New Department of Finance figures show just how much is at stake on this side of thesea. Our economy would be 4.5pc smaller by 2023 and 55,000 jobs would be lost.

What is most depressing is that after waiting more than two years to hear what the UK really, really wants, Mrs May has decided on what she can't have.

Irish Independent

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