Belfast Telegraph

Jon Tonge: May deluded if she thinks this changes anything in Brussels

Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street for the House of Commons (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street for the House of Commons (Stefan Rousseau/PA)
Jon Tonge

By Jon Tonge

Another day. Another 7pm News Special. Another near-farce. Two long hours of divisions to produce the parliamentary equivalent of a scoreless penalty shoot-out. Still, at least the Commons will be able to vote again in a fortnight - presumably after Brussels has simply caved in and offered the Mother of Parliaments what it wants - except that Parliament still doesn't know what it wants.

It only knows it doesn't want no-deal and doesn't like the current deal, which doesn't get us very far.

A PM who favoured Remain has taken us on a course of Leave.

A PM who agreed on no regulatory divergence between GB and Northern Ireland signed off on a deal accepting of such.

A PM who told us her deal was the "only deal and the best deal", until Parliament decided - in the biggest Government defeat ever recorded - that it wasn't.

And now a PM who accepted a deal with an unlimited backstop is going to Brussels to get the backstop changed or removed - committed to reopen the withdrawal agreement as if it is in her gift.

Laughably, Conservative MPs were whipped by their leader to demand a replacement to the backstop the same leader had agreed a few weeks ago.

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So now the political leader who could barely beat Jeremy Corbyn in a general election is somehow going to schmooze and cajole 27 EU Prime Ministers into tearing up a treaty they have already signed, as if the binding withdrawal agreement was some kind of 'Not entirely satisfied?: Money back' offer.

At this rate the PM is in danger of making her predecessor look competent in comparison. David Cameron's hapless failure to prise much from the EU in his pre-referendum 'renegotiation' featured in BBC2's excellent Inside Europe: Ten Years Of Turmoil documentary on Monday. Clearly most Conservatives preferred to forget. Those with amnesia included their backbench chairman Sir Graham Brady. He might as well have tabled a Commons amendment demanding a redraw of Saturday's National Lottery, on the grounds his numbers didn't come up, as attempt a rewriting of the withdrawal agreement.

From the outset the EU has said it will support the Irish Government in what it claims it needs to maintain a seamless border. So it's no backstop, no deal. As Cameron failed, faced with an impossible Tusk, so will May. At least Cameron resigned.

That said, no-deal is problematic for the EU. The vexed question of how the EU will police its single market frontier has yet to be addressed. The grim vista of the Irish Government reinforcing partition - through no fault of its own - looms large.

For the DUP, there is at least the satisfaction at eliciting a change of tack from the Government, even if either no-deal or no backstop might be tantamount to a shipwreck.

The importance of the DUP's Westminster 10 was re-emphasised in the recent confidence vote in the Commons and the Dodds-May rapprochement - bolstered by cordial dinners and a conciliatory tone in debates - continues, at least until the next Brussels rebuff.

Whilst it is an oft-repeated truism that the DUP does not speak for all of Northern Ireland, as many businesses, farmers, nationalists and others will testify, more cogent is that the party provides 91% of Northern Ireland's active Westminster representation, and 100% of Theresa May's parliamentary majority.

So the UK Government, Conservative Brexiteers and the DUP will now try and move the seemingly immoveable. Carnivores asking for steak in a vegan restaurant. They will again be confronted by "the deafness of the EU institutions to change in those negotiations". Not my words. You'll find them on page 18 of the DUP's last election manifesto…

Jon Tonge is Professor of Politics at the University of Liverpool

Belfast Telegraph


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