Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: More disarray over Brexit after frenzied day at Westminster

Theresa May
Theresa May

Editor's Viewpoint

In one of the most dramatic days at Westminster in living memory, the Government postponed indefinitely the date of the vote on Brexit, thereby throwing the current political scene into further disarray.

Theresa May has again demonstrated her Houdini-like gift for slipping out of a tight situation, escaping  for another day by refusing to countenance a vote on the withdrawal agreement tonight that could end in a heavy defeat.

However, this is at a significant cost to her political reputation and her insistence that her deal is the best — and only — option on the table. Clearly there is a need on all sides to avoid what could be a calamitous no-deal situation.

In an attempt to keep the current deal alive, she will again travel to Brussels to try to gain some concessions from her European partners, who may feel obliged to make some helpful gestures, particularly on the contentious issue of the backstop.

Though Taoiseach Leo Varakdar remains firm about the  backstop, surely he is one of the best-placed to give a lead in trying to help Mrs May and the UK, his nearest neighbour.

 This is one of the biggest challenges facing an Irish leader in recent times, because the outcome of Brexit will seriously affect the Republic.

While the DUP has been severely criticised for its uncompromising opposition to the deal, it could be said that, in its terms, it had a good day in Parliament.

It was the first to outline the constitutional implications of a backstop border in the Irish Sea. It had support from both sides in the House of Commons on this, but by no means the backing of everyone in Northern Ireland, including the business community.

The backstop strategy is immensely complicated, and not fully understood by a large number of people, but the wisdom currently is that it should remain as an option in the meantime.

 This will require an increased focus and further creativity to handle this issue. Some people are suggesting a five-year breathing space to enable technology to catch up in terms of regulatory checks along the border.

If the backstop issue can be solved, or agreed up to the point where it ceases to threaten future progess, there is much in the current deal to benefit Northern Ireland and its people.

The Prime Minister was right when she said that while the backstop creates confusion and concern, there is a fair degree of agreement on many of the other aspects of the Withdrawal Agreement.

There is a temptation — understandable but it should be resisted — for people to glaze over when Brexit is mentioned, but we are at an immensely significant point in our history, which will determine all our futures.

However, if the Parliamentary frenzy yesterday was tortuous in the extreme, it may help to focus our minds on the seriousness of the situation.

Sadly there is now a very short time to find a solution to the current political mess, but the effects of the outcome will last for generations. At best this deal should be a cornerstone for a settled, harmonious Northern Ireland.

However, the big worry for the majority of people here is whether or not it will survive the current political turbulence in London and the other European capitals.

All of this may seem very far removed from the lives of ordinary people in Northern Ireland, but one way or another, the outcome will affect deeply the lives of all of us for a very long time to come.

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