The Irish Times view on the Brexit endgame: some progress in London – at last
That both party leaders are being pressured into acting against their will shows just how difficult it will be to find agreement on how to proceed
UK prime minister Theresa May has said that if whatever plan she puts to MPs on Brexit is rejected on March 12th, then she will give them a choice on whether to support or oppose a no-deal exit. Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images
Finally, and very late in the day, there are significant moves in the House of Commons in relation to Brexit. British prime minister Theresa May has said that if whatever plan she puts to MPs on Brexit is rejected on March 12th, then she will give them a choice on whether to support or oppose a no-deal exit.
Should they then oppose a no-deal, she will bring a motion for approval proposing an extension of the article 50 process under which the UK is leaving the EU. This does not remove the chance of a disruptive no-deal exit, but it does make it less likely to happen at the end of March.
Getting House of Commons approval remains a daunting task for May
However, the job of finding some consensus in the UK on a realistic way forward remains. There is no doubt that May’s move is in response to relentless pressure from many in the Conservative Party alarmed by her reckless plan to run down the clock. Likewise, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn – reluctantly – has been pushed by his backbenchers towards a commitment, under certain circumstances, to support a second referendum. He may be doing so in the hope that it is a commitment he never has to deliver on, but can point to in future as having been made.
That both party leaders are being pressured into acting against their will shows just how difficult it will be to find agreement on how to proceed. It is all very well for the House of Commons to try to take a no-deal Brexit “off the table”, but to do so it has to agree a viable alternative. If it cannot do this, then a no-deal Brexit – the default scenario – remains a risk. As matters now stand it is possible that the cliff-edge we face at the end of March may merely be moved, perhaps until the end of June.
The EU is trying to assist Theresa May in framing some clarifications in relation to the backstop, the measure in the withdrawal agreement which is designed to avoid the return of a trade border on the island of Ireland. It has agreed to look at alternatives – such as new technology or advanced customs arrangements – during the transition period, when a new trade deal would be hammered out. However, the EU side will be frustrated with the prime minister’s continued insistence that there be legal changes to the withdrawal agreement.
Brexit involves huge damage to the UK economy and society, whatever way it goes
There is a path – a narrow one – to the approval of the withdrawal agreement by the House of Commons, enabled by some amendments to the accompanying political declaration and the addition, perhaps, of some other reassurance. Whatever emerges will have to be carefully considered in Dublin and may give rise to some difficult choices for the Government. But getting House of Commons approval remains a daunting task for May.
The UK political process has simply been unable to find a path out of this mess – largely because Brexit involves huge damage to the UK economy and society, whatever way it goes.