Belfast Telegraph

Suzanne Breen: All that unites our political leaders is that none have much faith in Mrs May

By Suzanne Breen

It wasn't a day for anyone on either side of the Brexit debate to mince their words. At Stormont our political parties tore strips off each other, and Theresa May, over the way forward.

Elsewhere, there were wildly emotive utterances from Donald Tusk and Sammy Wilson that bore more resemblance to bar-room barracking on a Friday night than to serious political discourse.

The Prime Minister met the leaders of Northern Ireland's five main parties at Stormont yesterday in what was the epitome of pointlessness.

If she hoped to help bridge the gap between them, or garner support for her quest for a new Brexit deal, she was on a fool's errand.

They emerged out of their respective meetings to give Press conferences at which it was clear they were more deeply divided than ever.

Indeed, all that effectively unites our political leaders is that none have much faith in Mrs May.

"We are now 51 days from the Brexit deadline and the British Prime Minister has come here empty-handed with the same old rhetoric with no plan, no credibility and frankly no honour," said Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald.

Ouch. The party has traditionally had some forthright exchanges with Downing Street, but you'd surely have to wind the clock back a good few years to find it launch such a stinging broadside against an occupant of No.10.

The DUP may have mended its relationship with the Prime Minister in the past fortnight.

But there remains scepticism in the party's ranks over how forcefully she will seek changes to the withdrawal agreement in Brussels today.

Having been betrayed by the Government over the backstop last autumn, the DUP leadership does not need reminding that while Mrs May currently seems onside, another U-turn can't be ruled out regardless of parliamentary arithmetic.

In August 2016 the DUP and Sinn Fein penned a joint letter from Stormont to Downing Street outlining the challenges of leaving the EU and how they must not compromise the gains made during the peace process.

But the toxic nature of the Brexit debate means it's been all downhill since.

The relationship between the two parties could best be described today as one of pure poison.

The DUP accuses Sinn Fein of selfish scaremongering, and in today's Belfast Telegraph Michelle O'Neill describes the DUP as "wreckers" who brought their "dysfunctionality and chaos" into the heart of Brexit.

But no matter how unlikely it seems now, these two parties' desire for power will bring them back into talks and eventually they will have to work together in another power-sharing administration.

Yet, for the moment, the division and bitterness runs so deep that, to their supporters, a "special place in hell" may be preferable.

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