The Irish Times view on Brexit: ‘no deal’ scenario very much in play

Without an inter-party agreement in London this week, there appears to be little prospect a Brexit deal will pass

With the drubbing her party received in local elections likely to be intensified in the European elections, the pressure mounts on Theresa May from hard Brexiteers to resign so a new leader can be elected in time for the party’s conference in September. Photograph: Simon Dawson/Reuters

With the drubbing her party received in local elections likely to be intensified in the European elections, the pressure mounts on Theresa May from hard Brexiteers to resign so a new leader can be elected in time for the party’s conference in September. Photograph: Simon Dawson/Reuters

 

This week is billed by the two major British political parties as the last one in which they might reach an agreement that would allow a Brexit deal to be passed by the House of Commons. Labour and the Conservatives have been negotiating for weeks on it, but their talks – just like so much else in the Brexit saga – have been going round and round without resolution in the absence of any decisive will to reach a compromise. The opportunity offered by the extended deadline to the end of October from EU leaders has instead become hostage to heightened political manoeuvring within the Conservatives over their policy and leadership.

That recurrent pattern has reached its final stages in prime minister Theresa May’s explicit commitment to depart the Conservative leadership as soon as a Brexit deal gets parliamentary approval. With the drubbing her party received in local elections likely to be intensified in the European elections, the pressure mounts on her from hard Brexiteers to resign so a new leader can be elected in time for the party’s conference in September. He or she would then be expected to reopen the EU withdrawal agreement. That prospect is strongly resisted by her supporters who hope a softer deal can be reached with the Labour Party.

Unfortunately for them May is not yet prepared to move enough towards the Labour Party position on staying within the EU customs union and regulatory rules to allow them agree. She remains fearful of losing another parliamentary vote if she does, yet knows she will lose it if she does not. Labour seeks guarantees that a new leader would not overturn any deal they reach but knows how difficult that would be.

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This impasse simply reproduces the circular movement so characteristic of the Brexit crisis as a whole. In the hope of triggering a general election instead Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn regrettably still refuses to make his support for May’s withdrawal agreement conditional on another referendum offering continued EU membership as its alternative.

All this makes an inter-party agreement this week highly unlikely. In that case there is little prospect a Brexit deal will pass. The political cycle will take over from the Brexit one yet both will remain deeply entangled in the other. It is hard to see a Conservative leadership contest resolving the matter. Efforts to revive the alternative arrangements which might replace the backstop on Northern Ireland in the withdrawal agreement have little prospect of success.

So far there is little sign that extending the Article 50 deadline on UK withdrawal to allow an agreement to be reached is being taken up constructively. If the domestic political impasse continues, a no deal scenario – which few except hard Brexiteers want – remains very much in play.

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