Monday 22 July 2019

Editorial: 'More pandemonium awaits amid unknowns of Brexit'

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


Theresa May need only look in the driver's mirror to understand why the engine of government has come to a spluttering stop with backbenchers at the wheel.

By the time it dawned on her the throng at her back were not followers but a posse, it was too late.

The extraordinary scenes in Westminster over recent days - her defeat in vote after vote - are consequences of a crippling inability to confront and face down opponents who thwarted her every move.

Leaders must have the courage to dare. Where a full-blooded showdown was urgently required, she served tea and scones.

In the early stages of her premiership, she was happy to don the mantle as a Margaret Thatcher for a modern era. Her timidity, indecision and myopia made it an ill-fit.

As the Iron Lady put it: "Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren't."

The inescapable conclusion today is that Mrs May isn't.

It may be a consolation for her to know all those who schemed and plotted behind her back within the Tories cannot launch another leadership challenge against her - under party regulations, that option is ruled out for 12 months after the attempt last month. But at what price?

For all the drama, we are still at a loss to know where things will lead.

The withdrawal deal will likely be defeated next week. Hilary Benn has probably seen to it that a no-deal is also less likely.

The Labour chair of the Brexit committee will table an amendment that refuses to approve her deal and also "rejects" leaving the EU without a deal.

After that we are in the dark. Mrs May will not have the luxury of running away again. She may even accept losing the Brexit deal vote as a necessary stage towards finally winning it.

The unknowns are still greater than the knowns. The performance of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been equally abject; at a time of national crisis, to see such a vacuum of authority is remarkable.

Yesterday, he suggested the UK's departure date from the EU in March could be delayed - if he can force a general election.

So he will vote down Mrs May's deal, and should he make it to Downing Street, open new negotiations with the EU.

He touts a deal involving: a customs union, a single market relationship, and a guarantee to keep pace with European Union rights and standards. In normal times, this may sound highly desirable; but with divisions so deep and Britain so polarised, betting on any result other than more pandemonium sounds like more magical thinking.

Irish Independent

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