Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: 'May survives for now, but she's still facing an impossible task'

Prime Minister Theresa May
Prime Minister Theresa May

Prime Minister Theresa May survived a vote of no confidence by 200-117 - and this might look like a comfortable majority.

In reality, it is simply a Pyrrhic victory.

It does nothing to quell the civil war within the Conservative Party over her Brexit withdrawal plan.

This proposal is also vehemently opposed by the DUP, whose MPs are propping up what is increasingly looking like a lame duck Government.

Mrs May has sold her future to see off those Tories who tried to unseat her last night, promising that she won't lead the party into the next general election, scheduled for 2022.

Her desperation to find some way of making her deal sufficiently appealing to the House of Commons as a whole to get it passed is self-evident.

But it is equally clear that the DUP and other Brexiteers will dog her every step, and that makes her job almost impossible.

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What motive is there for the 28 EU countries to bail her out by changing the withdrawal agreement at this late stage?

Time to make any changes to a deal that took two years to strike is incredibly short, with the UK due to leave on March 29.

Today Mrs May will seek what she calls legal and political assurances from the Council of Europe in what increasingly looks like a last ditch attempt to get the agreement through Parliament.

At the core of the objections, especially from the DUP but also a significant number of Tories, is the backstop.

Regarded as a signed international agreement by the EU and very unlikely to be changed, Mrs May must find some way of getting sufficient clarification and assurances to appease her critics.

However, the DUP will remember that she reneged on promises to it when striking the current deal and it will be very wary of accepting any future assurances which are not based on certainty.

But, as last night showed, she lacks nothing in resolve and tenacity and keeps overcoming every obstacle in her way.

That has an effect publicly as she defies her critics, and she is helped by the fact that her opposition has no cohesive position on how to achieve Brexit.

As the chaos continues, the DUP might well reflect that had it played its hand differently at an earlier stage, it might be much closer to achieving the sort of Brexit it wants.

It had unprecedented influence by keeping the Government in power but never got a seat at the Brexit negotiating table. That could have enabled it to help shape a deal which would work to Northern Ireland's advantage while delivering the will of the UK electorate as a whole.

Instead, the party has found itself at loggerheads with the business and farming community, who regard the current deal as a good one from a pragmatic if not political point of view.

Of course any party with unionist in its title will see preserving the Union as its core objective, but its vision needs to be wider. The surest way of making the Union attractive to the widest number of people in Northern Ireland is to create a prosperous, peaceful and outward-looking society.

That requires a nimbleness from politicians to take advantage of situations which can be exploited rather than sitting in a silo telling everyone what they are against.

Now the fate of Brexit rests in Mrs May's hands.

If she cannot strike a better deal she must resign - but who among her critics will lift this poisoned chalice and do any better?

Belfast Telegraph


From Belfast Telegraph