The Irish Times view on election strategies: Brexit weighs heavily in Ireland and Britain

Leo Varadkar has made the right call in ruling out a pre-Christmas election

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at a press conference at Government Buildings on Wednesday. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at a press conference at Government Buildings on Wednesday. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

 

Politicians generally quote the national interest when calling elections, though inevitably they are driven by their own agendas. There have been several occasions over the past year or so when a UK election seemed to be the only way to break the Brexit deadlock. It is thus ironic that one has been called after a withdrawal agreement was reached with the EU which appeared to have a chance of getting through the House of Commons. But that’s politics. Boris Johnson has calculated he has a better chance of re-election now rather than taking the chance of firstly getting the deal through parliament.

The British electorate faces a huge choice. Ideally, the main political parties would spell out the consequences of Brexit, along with their plans to proceed and what these would mean. More likely, the campaign will lapse into shallow sloganeering about getting Brexit done, or a jobs-friendly Brexit, or whatever. The basic dishonesty of Brexit – the myth that it can somehow lead to a more prosperous future – has never been squarely addressed. The Conservative party appears to be driven by a core group of ideological Brexiteers, while Labour has tied itself in knots over Brexit.

Forecasting elections is always risky and, in this environment, is impossible. Many argue the apparent clarity of Johnson’s message could win the day but a society split on its future direction could return another divided parliament.

Importantly for Ireland, the immediate threat of a no-deal Brexit has been removed. But uncertainty remains. The withdrawal agreement has not passed the UK parliament. Will the next parliament be able to approve it? Will the next prime minister seek more changes ? Even a second Brexit referendum cannot be ruled out.

Indeed, the public is unlikely to have welcomed the alternative

Meantime, the clock is ticking on the new January 31st Brexit deadline. And even if this is met, potentially fraught negotiations will follow on a new EU/UK trade agreement. A re-elected Johnson, backed by a pro-Brexit parliament – were this to be the outcome – could push for the type of future deal which would damage Ireland economically and increase the challenges of implementing proposed new trade arrangements in the North.

Against this backdrop, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has ruled out a pre-Christmas general election here though he must have been tempted as his personal approval ratings improve and Fianna Fáil is on the back foot after the Dáil voting controversy. So this Government will be in place to deal with the fall-out from the UK election which could be important if, for example, demands for some renegotiation emerge or the new UK parliament cannot meet the January 31st deadline.

The Taoiseach has made the right call – indeed the public is unlikely to have welcomed the alternative – but the rocky road ahead means he is facing a challenge in settling on a “good” time for an election.The clock is ticking on that decision too.

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