Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Prime Minister's Belfast visit casts little light on road ahead

Theresa May
Theresa May

Editor's Viewpoint

The Prime Minister had the courtesy yesterday to thank the business community in Northern Ireland for coming out in support of the Brexit withdrawal deal she signed last November, but then made it clear that she was going to attempt to get the EU to amend it.

It looked like an unspoken plea for them to throw their weight behind this new negotiation. But the business community heard nothing of what they wanted - some degree of certainty over what will happen when the UK leaves the EU at the end of March.

Mrs May made it clear that the backstop has to remain but that, in accordance with the wishes of MPs, she will attempt to get it tempered.

She only had to look across the River Lagan from where she was speaking yesterday to see what could be one of the largest casualties if the UK exits without a deal in place.

Plane maker Bombardier, which has forged a partnership with French-centred Airbus, would most likely take flight in such circumstances.

Business leaders' concerns are real and that should also be a concern for the DUP who are in the vanguard of opposing the current Withdrawal Agreement. The party, understandably, fears that separate treatment for Northern Ireland in the aftermath of Brexit could have constitutional implications in the long run and hence has set its face implacably against what is currently on offer.

But it must balance its political views against causing any harm to Northern Ireland business or farming interests, and that is no easy task.

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It is clear that the Prime Minister's visit cast little light on the road ahead. There were many fine words but her speech was short on specifics or even new ideas, and that is what's needed when she flies out to Brussels tomorrow.

Today she meets Northern Ireland's political parties and will exhort them to consider restoring devolution but the parties, high on the toxic fumes of the Brexit debate, are in no apparent mood to compromise.

Certainly Sinn Fein seems content to see how Brexit pans out - having avoided leaving any memorable interventions on the subject - and also await the result of the RHI inquiry, which is likely to be a caustic commentary on the way Northern Ireland was governed under the stewardship of Sinn Fein and the DUP.

It might even be time now to consider alternatives to devolution, radical as that thought is.

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