Can Sinn Féin stop a no-deal Brexit?
Sir, – “Gosh, what a clever wheeze!” That was the initial response by one of Britain’s most fervent anti-Brexiters to Fintan O’Toole’s column (“Ireland can stop a no-deal Brexit. Here’s how”, Opinion & Analysis, August 3rd). But, after a moment’s thought, he argued against the idea of Sinn Féin’s seven MPs maintaining their abstentionist purity by standing down and making a short-term “loan” of their Commons seats to independent Remainers in order to frustrate Boris Johnson’s no-deal plan.
I canvassed four senior Labour party Remainers in confidence about O’Toole’s suggestion in order to test whether they would support such a move.
One of them, an MP for 18 years, thought it was “bonkers” and hopelessly flawed. Three, who admired both the notion and the kindly rationale which informed it, rejected it as wholly impractical.
One, a former cabinet member who sits in the Lords, said there was no certainty that seven votes would make a difference, given the fact that a number of Brexit-minded Labour MPs will surely defy the whip by voting with the government. Anyway, asked another, an ex-minister, what precisely would “O’Tooled MPs” be voting for? A deal? If so, what deal? Revocation of Article 50? Dissolution of parliament? He said: “They are likely to be blindsided by unforeseen events.”
Three of them pointed to the difficulty Sinn Féin would face in trying to “sell” what seems like a complicated plot to voters in Northern Ireland. “As good as it sounds,” said one, “there is likely to be more of a down-side than an up-side for Sinn Féin.”
The most enthusiastic of the four, a leading Remainer propagandist, told me: “It would be marvellous if it could be organised but it seems like a very complicated procedure to explain to constituents. It would also be considered by Brexiters and, to be honest, many Remainers as well, to be a cynical interference with parliament. I can imagine loud complaints about Sinn Féin undermining British democracy. And who knows where that might finish? Quite possibly in renewed civil disturbance in Northern Ireland?”
It strikes me, despite O’Toole’s entertaining stratagem and his genuine wish to prevent a no-deal scenario becoming a reality, that my British quartet of interviewees are correct.
A good column but bad politics. – Yours, etc,