Sunday 20 October 2019

Editorial: 'Soft Brexit looks best bet as UK struggles to find solution'

Theresa May. Photo: Philip Toscano/PA Wire
Theresa May. Photo: Philip Toscano/PA Wire


It says much about the downfall of Theresa May that the only real power she now has is to leverage her own resignation as an inducement to vote.

The British prime minister has long been superfluous to whatever steps are taken to salvage Brexit, if such steps exist.

For if there is one thing we now know for sure about Brexit, it is that we still know very little.

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Where to date we have been looking into a bush, thanks to the House of Commons' indicative votes, we are now looking into a hedge.

So while getting to the root of the problem is still some way off, the possibility that there may actually be a root - somewhere in the thick, dark recesses in Westminster - must be a type of progress.

Where we ought to be startled by the fact the initiative has been snatched from Mrs May, Brexit has in fact given us so many shocks that we have become numbed despite the historical magnitude of the collapse in leadership.

The mood of resignation may be born out of the recognition that such a cascading shambles could only have occurred if Mrs May never had any initiative to begin with.

It is no longer about kicking the can up or down the road; if there was anything left of the can, it got lost in the melee some while back.

That political loutishness has taken us to such a momentous pass is quite unforgivable.

For politicians to have wilfully visited such potential economic and social havoc on millions of people will in time surely be recognised as one of the greatest betrayals of political responsibility in recent times.

And so the UK parliament has wrested control and Mrs May can only watch as MPs grapple with the shards of the splintered Brexit dream.

Few believe they can find enough of substance around which to coalesce.

Despite the fusillades from all sides, it is hard to see how much ground on reaching agreement can be gained.

If a Plan B materialises through the acrid smoke of Westminster debate and Mrs May rejects it, the cross-party group of backbenchers plans to turn the House of Commons compromise - probably a soft Brexit - into legislation mandating the government to implement it.

Despite Mrs May's insistence that she will not be bound by the votes, no less an authority than Michael Gove has pointed out: "If a majority of MPs vote for something, she is compelled to obey the law."

Labour wants a confirmatory public vote, saying any deal agreed by parliament "needs further democratic approval".

Oliver Letwin, whose proposal ushered in the votes, feels the only way leaving the EU with no deal can be prevented is by crystallising an alternative majority and carrying it forward.

Which is all wise and commendable if a bit late in the day. But as to whether we are looking at an election, an abdication or a catastrophic crash, Brexit itself remains in the lap of some very giddy gods.

Irish Independent

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