Belfast Telegraph

EU Election 2019

Editor's Viewpoint: Election is over but Brexit puzzle remains

The votes in the European Parliament elections have been counted, the winners declared, the huge shocks of the astonishing successes of the Brexit Party in Britain and the Alliance Party in Northern Ireland absorbed, and Brexit still hangs over us like the Grim Reaper of politics. (Yui Mok/PA)
The votes in the European Parliament elections have been counted, the winners declared, the huge shocks of the astonishing successes of the Brexit Party in Britain and the Alliance Party in Northern Ireland absorbed, and Brexit still hangs over us like the Grim Reaper of politics. (Yui Mok/PA)

Editor's Viewpoint

The votes in the European Parliament elections have been counted, the winners declared, the huge shocks of the astonishing successes of the Brexit Party in Britain and the Alliance Party in Northern Ireland absorbed, and Brexit still hangs over us like the Grim Reaper of politics.

The only thing that is certain is that the UK is still polarised by the issue. Notwithstanding their success at the polls, the Brexit Party and fellow travellers only managed to equal the number of votes gained by remainers.

And in Northern Ireland the election merely underlined that a majority of people here want to remain in the EU.

That is not to dismiss either Brexit or Alliance who performed magnificently, chiefly by giving voters a clear message on where they stood. For Alliance it showed there is a middle ground between the DUP and Sinn Fein and that it is best placed at this moment to occupy it.

Now the action switches to Westminster and the backstabbing free-for-all that will pass as a Tory party leadership campaign. Up to 13 candidates could take part but it seems inevitable that any winner will have to be a committed Brexiteer.

That will be music to the ears of the DUP who will continue to hold the balance of power in Parliament and one Tory leadership candidate, Jeremy Hunt, has already promised to include them in his negotiating team, although why they had not insisted in being on Theresa May's team in the first instance is a puzzle.

The problem for any potential new Prime Minister is that none of the candidates has come up with a feasible alternative to the border backstop which has always been the stumbling block in finding an acceptable exit agreement.

Brexit is like Northern Ireland's devolution impasse. Everyone knows what the problems are but no one is prepared to compromise to break the logjam. The worry in parochial terms is that the current Stormont talks will run into the ground through lack of interest from Westminster, the DUP's pivotal position in Parliament which will demand a lot of the party's energies, and Sinn Fein's soul searching after poor election performances in the Republic and a less than glowing effort on this side of the border.

Meanwhile, the UK has to leave the EU by Halloween at the latest, a ghoulish prospect given that many of the Tory leadership candidates are avowed leave at any cost purists.

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