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Great dividing line of Brexit runs through British politics

Inside Politics: Both Conservatives and Labour are split on the issue as May meets Corbyn for talks

Good morning.

It's Brexit day minus nine, or plus six if you go by the Rees-Moggian calendar, and uncertainty still surrounds the basic questions of whether the UK will leave, when and how.

The drama/farce at Westminster continues to play itself out, all chronicled faithfully and analysed acutely by London Editor Denis Staunton.

On today's front page, he reports the House of Commons late last night voted to require Theresa May to seek a long extension next week rather than leave without a deal.


Also yesterday, there were “constructive” - or “inconclusive”, depending on whose briefing you prefer - talks between the prime minister and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

May’s offer to Corbyn - that they should agree to be bound by the results of indicative votes in the Commons and pass the withdrawal treaty - infuriated her Brexiteer MPs, with many sources reporting in Westminster they have never seen such anger there as is currently directed at May by her Brexiteers.

But Corbyn’s party is split too – between those who think he should use the opportunity to secure a second referendum by making it a condition of supporting the withdrawal treaty and those who - like the leader himself, everyone believes - want to get out of the EU. Some believe a second referendum would split Labour every bit as much as the Tories - more evidence that this great dividing line of British politics runs through both big parties, not between them. The chances of it ripping both asunder are pretty lively.

And pause to consider that before the referendum was called, not many Tories wanted out, and very few voters thought EU membership was an important matter. There’s a lesson about politics and government in there: draco dormiens nunquam titillandus, as they say in the classics. Never tickle a sleeping dragon (grammar nerds may award extra points for the use of a gerundive this early in the morning).

Denis's analysis is here, while Paddy Smyth observes from Brussels.

Later today, German chancellor Angela Merkel dashes to Dublin for talks with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on Brexit and specifically on preparations for a hard Border. Yesterday, Varadkar told the Dáil although many customs and excise charges could be applied remotely, checks on animals would not be so easily managed.

The report is here, along with a preview of the Merkel meeting, which will happen at Farmleigh this afternoon. Derek Scally reports from Berlin that Dr Merkel has been describing the Border as "a question of war and peace".

We also have a bracing editorial on the subject.

Pelosi to visit Ireland amid push for visa programme

Still with international visits, and Fiach Kelly has a scoop this morning about a visit later this month by Nancy Pelosi and other senior congressional leaders from the US.

The context is a renewed push by Irish allies in Congress to secure a special visa programme for Ireland. Richie Neal, the chairman of the powerful ways and means committee, will also be part of the delegation.

There’s another message in the visit too, though, which will be conveyed when the delegation travels to the Border - Congress is likely to look askance at any future US-UK trade deal if Brexit hardens the Irish Border. The animating spirit of Brexit is for Britain to go it alone in the world; fair enough. But everyone needs friends they can rely on, too.

More trouble brewing for Harris

Finally, trouble brewing again for Minister for Health Simon Harris on the CervicalCheck scandal. There is a massive backlog in smear test results, largely attributable to the hasty decision last year to offer retests to anyone who wanted one in the wake of the scandal.

The former director of the programme, Grainne Flannelly, says she warned Harris through his officials not to offer the retests; Harris says nobody advised him not to. Fianna Fáil is demanding he correct the record of the Dáil.This story will run today too, because the health committee is back at it this morning.

Best Reads

Stephen Collins on the prospects for a Brexit resolution.

Emmet Malone on the FAI controversy at the sports committee yesterday.

Der Speigel has an interview with Commons speaker John Bercow. Helpfully for those of you whose Deutsch is a little, ah, beschissen, it's in English.

Miriam on poor Finian's woes.

The Independent group of newspapers may be sold, its chief executive has indicated.

If Ireland wants to send a message of accommodation to unionists, says Newton Emerson, don't bother joining the Commonwealth – join Nato.


Leaders’ Questions and weekly votes in the Dáil, and a slate of Government legislation in the Seanad.

It's a busy day at the committees where the health committee will again examine the CervicalCheck scandal. Former top Eurocrat Catherine Day is at the EU affairs committee, while the Government's planning and preparedness for emergencies and the economy of the Gaeltacht will be discussed elsewhere. Full details at

All eyes on Farmleigh in the afternoon where the Taoiseach entertains Dr Merkel - still, let us not forget, Europe’s most powerful leader and the most important presence on the European Council.

Meanwhile, the wrangling at Westminster will continue today.

And that’s it for today. If you’re exasperated by Brexit and despairing of its politics, that’s understandable. But remember that politics is the crucible in which great good can be achieved, too. Today is the 51st anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King. Do yourself a favour and read his famous “I have a dream” speech (text is here) or, better still, listen to it (good audio quality here).

And once you’ve done that . . . do have a thoroughly jolly, fruity day.