May fears breakup of UK

Who, in their right mind, would buy a house and fail to inspect the property for two years afterwards? Nobody, you might say but that’s exactly what the Tory government have done, propped-up by their DUP Brexit allies. Now, two years after the EU referendum debate and over a year after issuing the Article 50 notice, the Tory cabinet has divided into factions arguing furiously over the ways and means by which the UK might extract itself from the EU. If you think that debate should have happened before the referendum vote, or the Article 50 notice, there is a good chance you will be accused of being an “enemy of the people”, or “unpatriotic” by Tory Brexit fanatics who still refuse to acknowledge evidence or reason.

The DUP are in a very curious position, pushing for a destructive break with Europe at great risk for their constituents. The DUP claim EU exit will not require any new infrastructure or delays at the Irish border, despite masses of evidence to the contrary. Sinn Fein are content to let their old foes march blindly towards the precipice, knowing that the DUP’s unstinting support for Brexit nudges Northern Ireland towards unification with the rest of Ireland.

The Tories engineered an advisory referendum on EU membership, for internal party reasons, with no planning or consideration of the impact of a vote to leave. The fact that government ministers still cannot decide whether Brexit means remaining in the customs union or adopting a speculative, untested and scarcely defined, high-tech customs partnership strongly implies no real decision has been made, almost two years after the referendum. Some government ministers assert that retaining any links with the customs union would mean effectively remaining within the EU, without the full benefits of membership. If that is correct we must take it that the decision to leave the EU is still in serious doubt.

It’s now clear, even to many leave voters, the referendum was obscured by lies and promises that cannot be delivered. Promises like; the easiest trade deal in history, £350million p.w. for the NHS, cost free open market trade with Europe after Brexit and no negative consequences of leaving, are exposed for what they were; dishonest abuse of voters trust.

The government has run out of ways of fudging difficult choices, the Prime Minister’s favourite tactic, as the self-imposed deadline for EU withdrawal approaches. Ministers must acknowledge facts and reason, but the extravagant promises made by leave campaigners during the referendum campaign are simply undeliverable. The government must choose between some highly unpalatable options very soon.

One of the central issues currently dominating cabinet discussions is the impact of Brexit on the Irish border. The border was barely mentioned during the referendum. Leave spokesmen like Daniel Hannan, Sammy Wilson and others dismissed the idea Brexit would create complications for the cross-border economy in Ireland. Justified concerns of border communities were described as “project fear”.

Now we learn, from sources reported in the London Evening Standard (editor George Osborne, Tory chancellor at the time of the EU vote), that the cabinet is hopelessly split on the border issue and some ministers believe it is insoluble. We also learn that the Prime Minister is far from confident that a border poll could be relied upon to keep Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom.

Those of us who argued that Brexit threatens the stability of Northern Ireland can now count the Prime Minister, and about half of her cabinet, among many holding similar views. It is also intriguing to see how badly misguided the DUP has been in their full-blooded support for Brexit. The Prime Minister herself is saying that withdrawal from the EU has tipped the balance of opinion in Northern Ireland away from maintenance of the Union with Great Britain, in favour of a united Ireland.

It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that despite all the noise and bluster no real decision have been made yet and, as the full impact of Brexit comes into view, there is every reason to hope this dreadful mess can be stopped before it is too late.


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