Tuesday 22 October 2019

Editorial: 'New Tory leader must have grasp of reality over Brexit'

'If Brexit is to be salvaged, Theresa May's departure needs to be seen as less than an ending and more as a starting point for a leader with a handle on reality.' Photo: PA
'If Brexit is to be salvaged, Theresa May's departure needs to be seen as less than an ending and more as a starting point for a leader with a handle on reality.' Photo: PA
Editorial

Editorial

It has been the longest of long goodbyes. It seems an age since the question has been not if but how, concerning Theresa May's exit. Yet as the door closes behind her it is hard to see how the new leader who opens it will fare any better, thanks to the messy geometry of red lines she has drawn around Brexit.

It has been Britain's misfortune at a time of its greatest political crisis for half a century to be saddled with two of its most hapless leaders. On Monday the Conservatives will begin the process of replacing Mrs May in earnest. But yesterday the formal letter of resignation was sent from Downing Street.

She remains in a caretaker capacity. Yet a change of leader will be of no value unless there is also a change in thinking. In terms of understanding how the whole project became so hopelessly blocked, it is unreasonable to hold Mrs May solely responsible; but she has played a significant part in engineering the omnishambles. True, there was always something slightly absurd in a Remainer ideologue steering Brexit home.

True also, the Tory Party just like the UK is rent by the subject. Though earnest and sincere in pursuit of her goals, she missed them.

She was unable to deliver on a deal which she spent two years negotiating and even signed off on in Brussels. She came to office promising to tackle "burning injustices" yet found herself singed by them.

She ordered the Home Office to send what were dubbed "Go Home" vans, and oversaw a policy that led to the deportation of many of the Windrush generation. So some will say her exit was overdue. But politics goes beyond the personal. Results are what count and Mrs May did not get them. Faced with a party at war, she concentrated her focus on avoiding a split instead of fixing on uniting her country behind a single concrete plan for an orderly Brexit. This meant rising above partisanship and reaching across the political divide. By the time circumstances forced her to do precisely this, it was far too late.

Jeremy Corbyn rebuffed her desperate overtures. Equally self-interested, he sniffed electoral victory in the wind.

Dazzled by the prospect of opportunistic triumph, he too ignored the national interest.

Neither Mrs May nor Mr Corbyn was prepared to sacrifice where they are now, for were they might arrive tomorrow with a bit of resolve and direction. What matters now, is that whoever succeeds Mrs May - if they are to be true to the wishes of the majority of the people in the UK - must agree a deal with Brussels on Brexit. They must also step away from magical thinking and the pursuit of unicorns. If Brexit is to be salvaged, Theresa May's departure needs to be seen as less than an ending and more as a starting point for a leader with a handle on reality.

Irish Independent

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