Belfast Telegraph

Tom Kelly: Seeing Brexit withdrawal agreement’s defeat and humiliation of PM was political equivalent of sinking the lifeboats and clubbing a seal

Labour’s Kate Hoey addresses Parliament during yesterday’s debate
Labour’s Kate Hoey addresses Parliament during yesterday’s debate

By Tom Kelly

As a child I was often fascinated with the legends and tales of Irish mythology.

One such story is the Harp of Dagda.

Dagda was a pre-Christian Irish king with mystical powers.

He was alleged to have had a cauldron that would never go empty until every man had his fill, and a wooden staff that could bring the slain back to life.

Dagda also owned a beautiful, magical oak harp that would only play music for him.

He once used it to great effect when his enemies stole it and threatened to end his rule.

Creeping into their castle to retrieve his instrument, he stirred the assembly.

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The harp, seeing its owner, leapt off the wall into the arms of Dagda, who then played three chords.

The first was the music of tears, and every man and woman in the great hall started crying uncontrollably, inconsolable with sorrow. Then he played the music of mirth, making them all laugh hysterically and manically; and finally he played the music of sleep, which dulled their senses and sent them into a deep slumber.

He didn't slay his enemies, but he remained unbothered by them for some time.

Somehow I believe the Harp of Dagda has found its way to Westminster, as the tactics of Theresa May for the past number of months have seen Members of Parliament go through the gamut of every emotion.

As witnesses to this farce, we have watched manic behaviour, hysterics, things that would make you cry, and an incredible dullness in selling what is probably the best deal that the UK can get from Europe.

Mrs May has played every chord that Dagda knew.

At one level she has demonstrated the doggedness that makes her a tragic hero.

At another level she seems delusional to the point of demented. She did, however, put up a plan - no one else did.

Unfortunately for her, people and parliamentarians stopped listening three months ago.

The reality is her party, her partners in government and her parliament are like a pit of rattlesnakes, as likely to attack each other as Mrs May.

The Brexiteers after two years still have no plan.

They won a referendum, without a clue about what to do next.

It's like Rochdale FC winning the FA Cup, only to leave the trophy in a pub toilet while celebrating on the way home!

Seeing the withdrawal agreement defeated and humiliating a hardworking but shattered Prime Minister is the political equivalent of sinking the lifeboats and clubbing a seal at the same time.

While all eyes have been on Mrs May, it's Macron and Merkel we should be watching.

A no-deal scenario may hurt the EU, but not as much as it will hurt the UK, and those two leaders know it.

They must look at the position of Mrs May with dismay and disbelief.

Both are too wise and wily ever to have contemplated politically hooking up with idealogical zombies and religious zealots.

Mainstream British voters will share that view very soon.

The DUP/Tory link-up made a coalition of chaos more inevitable because of Brexit.

Ironically, the chaos created by being in hock to the DUP will hasten a united Ireland without a backstop.

Young people and the not-so-young will not want to be trapped in a cultural cul-de-sac or a Bible belt backwater of a post-Brexit Northern Ireland.

A no-deal prospect will lead to the deterioration of long-term political relationships between the EU and the UK and it will dilute any appetite for co-operation or mitigation following departure on March 29.

The cost of any no-deal will be felt disproportionately in the UK.

If the UK fails to honour its commitments to the EU for projects it signed up to as a member of the EU, it will be regarded as a hostile act by other members.

A range of understandings on transport, roads, customs, data protection, visas, citizens' rights and financial services will be either slowed down or not honoured.

Angus MacNeil of the Scottish Nationalist Party quoted during the withdrawal agreement debate a Turkish proverb that says an Englishman would burn his own bed to destroy a flea.

Hard Brexiteers fuelled by the DUP's Union flag diet are intent in burning down not just the bed, but the whole house.

Being an island may have its advantages against invasion, but not in terms of trade or travel.

Being part of an island off a larger island makes daily life already quite difficult in terms of transport and trade.

Despite the crowing by Brexiteers, World Trade Organisation terms are not so easy. Trade deals take time - a lot of time.

The logical thing to do is to ask for an extension to Article 50.

But logic has played no part to date in any of the British thinking in relation to Brexit.

Jeremy Corbyn is unlikely to win any no confidence vote, but even if he did, he would find himself with similar arithmetic to Mrs May and would still face a united EU against the UK (though he may find that Labour members would be less enthusiastic about any potential partnership with the anti-equality DUP).

Mrs May is fortified by her steely determination as she was looking for a small mercy - a Dunkirk - a defeat, but honourable.

But Parliament is seriously divided and Mrs May has until next week to bring forward her Plan B - which is more of the same but with tweaks post the failure of the no confidence vote.

Whether Plan B or darting back to Brussels, both Mrs May and us are on borrowed time.

The reality is we are actually trying to scramble together a deal similar to the one we have actually walked away from, ie: EU membership.

Bertie Ahern once said that "illiberal voices would diminish our democracy", and after today we are faced with just that.

And of those illiberal voices was once the late Ian Paisley, who said: "In politics, as in life, it is a truism that no one can ever have 100% of what they desire."

Now is the time for British politicians, Tories, Labour, Liberals, Scottish Nationalists and the DUP to accept that truism.

Tom Kelly is a political commentator

Belfast Telegraph


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