Belfast Telegraph

We could lose out as divided Tories led by lame duck PM May go back to war over Brexit

It is unforgivable that DUP and Sinn Fein have not reached a deal to restore Stormont, says Alban Maginness

At a time when Britain faces the most enormous task of exiting the European Union, good leadership is required. However, Britain has the misfortune in having Theresa May, as Prime Minister, who is sorely lacking in good leadership skills.

She is surely the worst Prime Minister in living memory and heads up one of the weakest governments in modern times. Despite her dubious deal with the DUP, her Conservative government has a very shaky majority and is effectively crippled in Parliament by its own weakness, never mind its own internal differences.

Therefore, it will be a miracle if the Great Repeal Bill makes it through a rebellious House of Commons, in its original governmental form or indeed at all.

Recently the Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond publicly berated his own Cabinet colleagues on television for leaking against himself and the government's public sector pay policy.

As a result, in an unprecedented move, Theresa May had to publicly call for an end to leaks and public squabbling by members of her own Cabinet. For the moment the public divisions have ended, but for how long?

Theresa May is the author of her own misfortune by calling a snap general election and conducting the most incompetent and disastrous personalised election campaign that anyone can recall.

She saw a 20-point lead in the opinion polls drop to near parity with the Labour Party. Having lost the election she should have lost her leadership of the Conservative Party, but she survived by default, simply because her colleagues could not agree on a suitable alternative occupant of Number 10.

The alternative leaders are exceptionally unimpressive, ranging from the odious opportunist Boris Johnston, the gauche Michael Gove and David Davis, the struggling Brexit minister. The Chancellor Philip Hammond is probably the best candidate of them all, because he is at least competent, but he is decidedly dull and lacking a common touch.

But even if there was a good alternative leader within the ranks of the Tory Party - such is the state of division about Brexit - that it would be almost impossible to have him or her elected as leader and successfully unite the increasingly factionalised party.

The European issue, which bedevilled the party for years and which had apparently been put to bed with the election of David Cameron as leader, has come back to haunt the Tories.

Tory differences over Europe are so poisonous that there is little hope of any real consensus within the party, on the terms and conditions of Brexit. The recent talk about Britain accepting a further period of two or even four years transition beyond the formal period of two years post Article 50 is bound to disturb the rabidly anti-European factions on the backbenches.

In effect this means staying within the EU for a further four or even six years and having the continued free movement of EU citizens in and out of the UK, something abhorrent to the ardent Tory Eurosceptics.

All of this is very bad news for Northern Ireland, as what we need now is a competent British Government that can negotiate a departure deal with the EU, that will mitigate the harmful impact that Brexit will inevitably have on this region.

Thankfully on the European side chief negotiator Michel Barnier - having been involved here as a commissioner - is extremely knowledgeable about Ireland, north and south.

He is personally interested in bringing about arrangements that will have the least negative impact on Ireland as a whole.

The EU has taken the Irish question, as one of the top issues in the Brexit negotiations. Barnier sees the huge political importance of the Good Friday Agreement.

He said in Brussels after the second round of negotiations ended: "…more work needs to be done to protect north/south cooperation between Ireland and Northern Ireland."

As David Davis, the Brexit minister reiterated, both sides are committed to achieving a flexible and imaginative solution to address the unique circumstances around the border and particularly on the north/south dimension of the agreement.

All of these are fine words, but at this moment in time it is extremely difficult to see how we can maintain for the future the current freedom of movement for all on this island.

A 'frictionless border' is a happy sounding phrase, but is it really possible given the division there is on this issue between the UK and the EU. Once again will we lose out?

Added to the incompetence of this feeble government is the disastrous failure of SF and DUP to urgently form a new Executive that could play a critical role in defending this region's vital interests.

Their failure to bury the hatchet at this juncture is frankly irresponsible and unforgivable.

Belfast Telegraph

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