Belfast Telegraph

Suzanne Breen: May's meaningless Brexit mantra big on sentiment but short on detail

Theresa May during a visit to a community centre
Theresa May during a visit to a community centre

By Suzanne Breen

For an audience who have been let down by the Prime Minister on Brexit so recently, they were all very polite.

The business leaders gathered in Belfast city centre yesterday afternoon to hear Theresa May's keynote address could have been forgiven for venting their dissatisfaction.

After all, they had weighed in heavily behind her withdrawal agreement, even travelling to Westminster to support it and defend the backstop. Then, Mrs May performed her U-turn in Parliament last week, apparently casting adrift her former Brexit allies.

While she was saved the embarrassment of being publicly challenged by her audience, it was hardly a rapturous reception.

Rarely has there been so little confidence or enthusiasm shown in business circles for a Prime Minister.

Everybody acknowledges that Mrs May is a victim of circumstances in terms of parliamentary arithmetic. But she certainly isn't skilled in playing a bad hand well. Her speech was brimming with banalities and cliches dressed up as something meaningful and new.

She threw in references to the apparently inclusive nature of the centenary of the Easter Rising and World War One. With 51 days to Brexit, it really wasn't the time or place for such reminiscing. The business community - and everybody else - want answers for the here and now.

Then there was the suggestion of a joint British-Irish bid to host the World Cup in 2030. That was just clumsy. Whoever is writing speeches for the Prime Minister really needs a reality check if they think that will win over and reassure nationalist Remainers.

Given the pressures on her, it is perhaps admirable that she is visiting for two days. But the question must be asked, why is she actually here?

Will anything fresh or constructive emerge from today's meetings with our political leaders?

They will simply restate their Brexit positions to her, and she in turn will repeat a meaningless mantra that is big on sentiment but short on detail. This whole visit has the hallmarks of being nothing more than a box-ticking exercise.

Green Party leader Clare Bailey described her address as "weak and watery words from a weak and wobbly Prime Minister". Some in the DUP may well share those same concerns. They will wonder just how strenuously she will present her case against the backstop when she returns to Brussels. She keeps on surviving - without putting in a winning performance.

Belfast Telegraph

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