Monday 14 October 2019

Editorial: 'The EU can't be expected to Solve May's crisis for her'

UK Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: REUTERS
UK Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: REUTERS


Just one more push, pleaded Theresa May of the EU, as if she were the midwife instead of the mother delivering the Brexit problem child. The blank refusal to own responsibility, after a two-and-a-half-year gestation, makes this crisis unprecedented.

With a cliffhanger vote looming on Tuesday which Mrs May will almost certainly lose, Michel Barnier has offered a unilateral exit from the customs union, while maintaining the other elements of the backstop.

This might have seen the North remain in the customs union, but was immediately shot down by the DUP. With the air thick with desperation after her epic failure to forge any consensus in her warring party, Mrs May still sought to put the onus on Brussels to find a solution, issuing another "Mayday call".

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was having none of it; as he pointed out, it was up to the British, not the EU, to compromise. One EU diplomat was more blunt, claiming Mrs May was just preparing to blame the bloc for another defeat.

"We are expecting a blame game after she loses the second 'meaningful vote' next week, so it looks like she is already preparing the ground for this," the diplomat said. Yet nothing focuses the mind like the prospect of terminal decline, and as Mrs May prepares for what is beginning to look like judgment day, she has some clear choices to make.

If she accepts what Brussels has put forward she loses the DUP, and quite possibly the European Research Group (ERG).

Earlier, DUP leader Arlene Foster must have sensed something in the air when she again insisted: "The prime minister committed to secure legally binding changes [to the backstop]. She must deliver on that commitment."

It is baffling that so late in the day Ms Foster and Mrs May still fail to recognise that changing the elaborate architecture necessary to keep the 27-nation union together to facilitate their every wish is a non-runner. The "work-around" is for the six counties to enjoy the best of both worlds: remaining within the customs union and also enjoying the benefits of being in the UK. But the DUP says No.

Mr Barnier's offer may have an element of divide and conquer to it, but given the wall of resistance around Mrs May's every move, something has got to give.

The difficulty from the off with Brexit was attempting to construct political solutions to contain what appears to be an emotional juggernaut.

The UK has proven incapable of agreeing or articulating precisely what it requires of the EU. The impatience among British voters is palpable.

Expecting the EU to fashion a framework to accommodate the inimicable views of the UK's erstwhile "leaders" seems a big ask. No ladder could possibly be long enough to allow for the climbdown given the heights of indignation they have attained.

Irish Independent

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