The Irish Times view on the Brexit extension: Back to you, Mrs May
All sides in the UK simply have to face the fact that the only path to a solution involves acceptance of the withdrawal agreement
Britain’s prime minister Theresa May in the House of Commons in Britain. Photograph: Jessica Taylor/UK Parliament/AFP/Getty Images
It is too early to say whether the six month Brexit extension granted by European Union leaders to the UK will finally prompt a coherent response from the British parliament or simply lead to more prevarication and delay. Judging by what we have witnessed in recent months, further indecision seems the most likely outcome and with it continuing uncertainty.
The decision to adjourn the House of Commons from today until April 23rd for a long Easter break reinforces the view that the Brexit extension has had the effect of taking the pressure off MPs rather than concentrating minds on the need for progress.
The only way the longjam can be broken is if Prime Minister Theresa May and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn can manage to hammer out a deal in the weeks ahead. Their task is made all the more difficult by the fact that internal divisions within their own parties mean neither leader can be assured of the backing of a majority of their own MPs.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar made a significant effort to promote agreement in Westminster by suggesting that if the UK was to decide to stay in a Customs Union, it should have a say on issues like future trade deals and a level playing field for labour and environmental rights.
That drew an immediate response from Corbyn who said the Taoiseach had confirmed that his party’s plan was both credible and deliverable. The big question now is whether May and Corbyn can find enough common ground on a softer Brexit or, at the very least, agree on what options should be brought back to parliament for a final verdict.
May told the House of Commons yesterday that she intended to press ahead and find a way of getting a deal agreed as soon as possible to avoid the UK having to take part in the European elections on May 23rd.
One of the big fears about granting the UK a six month extension is that it could allow May’s enemies in the Conservative Party to force her out of office before the summer and provide the time for a leadership contest in which the likes of Boris Johnson could emerge as Prime Minister. A poor result for the Conservative Party in the European elections could prove to be the catalyst for a determined effort to remove her from office.
All sides in the UK simply have to face the fact that the only path to a solution involves acceptance of the withdrawal agreement, including the Border backstop, which has been rejected by parliament three times. What remains open to change is the political declaration on the future relationship and the prospect of a second referendum. So far MPs have failed to find a majority for any route forward and unless they do a no-deal outcome could re-emerge as a real prospect in October.