Saturday 21 September 2019

Editorial: 'May's 'call-my-bluff gambit' fraught with Brexit danger'

British Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: Reuters
British Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: Reuters


Seasoned poker players appreciate that if you look around the table and can't tell who the sucker is, it's most likely you.

A similar fatalistic mindset has taken hold over Brexit.

In London and Brussels, the last 48 hours have been consumed with formulating no-deal contingency plans.

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With less than 100 days to go - disregarding the fact nothing meaningful will be done over the next three weeks - the ticking of the Doomsday Clock is deafening.

You would not think so looking at the reactions of Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn. As the Brexit bus hurtles towards the cliff-edge, neither is showing any inclination to take hold of the wheel, jam the hand-brake, nor disembark.

The truth is there will be no cushioning from the crash unless there is a U-turn.

This means we are closer to a hard Border - without the benefit of a backstop. The British may not demand it, but the EU will have no choice to protect its common trade area.

This has massive security, travel and economic implications. Road blocks, checks, costly tariffs and untold administrative and practical problems are inevitable.

Instead of concentrating energies on averting disaster, Mrs May's Government is preparing for one.

Mrs May's detractors are accusing her of "psychological warfare". Staking all on a "call-my-bluff gambit" at the 11th hour is fraught with danger.

Measures including reserving ferry space for supplies and putting 3,500 armed forces personnel on standby to deal with disruption have been taken.

Sources in No 10 have confirmed ministers would "ramp up" no-deal planning.

Any wonder leaders of British industry are tearing their hair out in frustration. Some 53 top executives, including former Sainsbury's boss Justin King, are pleading for a second referendum.

They feel Mrs May's deal is now "impossible to resuscitate". Yet the British prime minister is adamant delivering on the deal is still her top priority. UK business wants her to take her deal to the people if she fails to win parliament's approval in the meaningful vote next month. Surely a little loss of face and dented pride is not too high a price to pay to avert economic catastrophe?

The EU has made it abundantly clear a managed no-deal Brexit is not on. The benefits of the withdrawal deal will simply not be replicated.

Mrs May must recognise it is not always about having the best cards, but in playing a poor hand well. In 1973, philosopher Walter Kaufmann coined the term "decidophobia", as in the fear of making the wrong decision.

We are way past this point. When it comes to Brexit, the danger of making no decision could be far worse.

Irish Independent

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