The Irish Times view on Brexit: Indecision and political paralysis
Theresa May’s hapless premiership is now, effectively, over
The heavy defeat of Theresa May’s latest proposals in the House of Commons continues the seemingly endless indecision in UK politics about what shape Brexit should take. The key trade-offs necessary to map a way forward have been dodged time and again.
The controversy surrounding the backstop for the Irish border was a symptom of a wider problem. The UK split on Brexit when the vote was taken and, since then, the Conservative government has shown itself completely unable to map a credible way forward. It is itself now hopelessly riven.
This extraordinary lack of political leadership has now created enormous uncertainty and risk. The path to an organised and planned exit based on an agreement between the UK and EU is now far from clear.
The chaos of a no-deal exit can by no means be ruled out, even if it is precisely what everyone has been trying to avoid. There are a range of other possibilities, but one thing is increasingly clear. Theresa May’s hapless premiership is now, effectively, over. She cannot get a deal past the Commons and her tactic of delaying and trying to pander to the Brexiteer lobby and the DUP has backfired spectacularly.
The trouble is that time is now hopelessly short. A delay in the UK’s departure date now looks likely. Despite its reservations, the EU will probably agree to this, if only to give more time to prepare for a no-deal scenario. But a way forward is now needed in UK politics, perhaps via a general election. The case for a second referendum remains, though a likely route to it is unclear.
Either way, the current House of Commons has been completely unable to find a way forward. British politics has found itself unable to frame the questions it must answer, never mind answer them. The pro-Brexit lobby continues to put forward fantasies and – together with the DUP – demands the impossible: a backstop with a unilateral exit mechanism.
Support among many for the Belfast Agreement and peace on this island seems notable by its absence. To many in the Commons, the issue of the Irish Border appears to be a nuisance, to be wished away by promising to use non-existent technological solutions.
The support of the DUP for Brexit in the first place remains inexplicable and it has never since been able to put forward a credible solution to the Irish Border issue. In a no-deal Brexit, the North would suffer hugely.
Further votes are due in the House of Commons in the days ahead, on a no-deal Brexit and, possibly, on whether to seek an extension of the article 50 period.
But the issue remains that a no-deal exit – even if voted against in the Commons – is precisely what will happen, sooner or later, unless another way forward is agreed.