Sunday 16 June 2019

Editorial: 'May's reign is over but the questions on Brexit remain'

British Prime Minister Theresa May delivering her resignation statement. Photo: REUTERS/Simon Dawson
British Prime Minister Theresa May delivering her resignation statement. Photo: REUTERS/Simon Dawson


If all political careers end in failure, Theresa May got a head start by failing pretty much from the beginning. Eight months after taking up occupancy at No 10 she went to the country on the back of a catastrophic miscalculation.

Seeking a massive endorsement she got instead a historic scolding from the electorate which left her in office but not in power, ever since.

Her premiership became an agonising chain of accidents which had to end somewhere.

She will be best-remembered for the awkward pauses and dramatic intervals at the end of which nothing happened.

The mess this political inertia created will take some time to work through.

Yet not even Mrs May's gift for self-immolation could account for a breakdown on such an epic scale.

When the party pillars of loyalty and responsibility crumbled, they were replaced by blocs of self-serving and deluded Brexit die-hards, who would neither lead nor drive.

Mrs May lost all agency, and a party in revolt all sense of direction.

People around the world became transfixed with the psychodrama in Downing Street, and its sequel in Westminster.

On a human level it was hard not to feel for her as a victim of Brexit, but it could be argued just as easily she was also its villain.

Her infamous red lines and her covenant with the DUP made compromise impossible.

It was unprecedented in Brussels for a prime minister of an EU country - and the world's fifth-largest economy - to sign off on an international agreement, only to return to apologise for not being able to sell it to her own government.

Her mission statement to deliver on Brexit became a travesty.

The indications do not suggest her successor will fare much better.

Boris Johnson, the man tipped as a hot favourite to take over, yesterday bragged of crashing out of the EU without a deal, if necessary. "We will leave the EU on October 31, deal or no deal," he thundered. "The way to get a good deal is to prepare for a no deal," he added. It appears there is still no room for reality within the rarefied bubble in which too many Tories reside.

The myth that simply installing a new prime minister will break the Brexit deadlock still holds.

Yet a majority within Westminster would be opposed to a no-deal disorderly exit.

Therefore a referendum is the logical next move if the impasse is to be broken.

Brussels cannot bow to anyone's bidding on renegotiating the Withdrawal Agreement.

Yet clearly if there is no deal, all bets are off.

On the line is Britain's future with Europe, and Ireland's future with Britain.

The risks to our economy and to peace in the North are very real. Leaders must make hard choices as well as hard compromises, as Mrs May learned to her cost. Whatever about the fantasy, whoever turns the key next at No 10 will be facing the same questions, and sooner or later they have to be answered.

Irish Independent

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