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Friday, Sep 20, 2019

The consequences of an irresponsible Brexit deal

British PM Theresa May demonstrated that sturdy refusal to budge she has become famous for. She wasn’t going to postpone Britain’s exit. She wasn’t going to agree to a second referendum.

opinion Updated: Feb 10, 2019 13:59 IST
Mark Tully
Mark Tully
The reason Theresa May’s plan failed was her effort to avoid any possibility of a hard border between Northern Ireland, a part of Britain, and the Republic of Ireland.
The reason Theresa May’s plan failed was her effort to avoid any possibility of a hard border between Northern Ireland, a part of Britain, and the Republic of Ireland.(Reuters)
         

Over the past four weeks I have been in London witnessing the spectacle of the two main political parties tearing themselves apart as members of Parliament (MPs) disagree on Britain’s exit from Europe.

I arrived in London on the evening the Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May was humiliated when many of her own MPs voted down her plan for the exit. The next day she recovered her authority when her party rallied behind her to defeat a no-confidence motion, but that was a brief demonstration of unity, which fell apart once the threat of an election was averted.

Thereafter May demonstrated that sturdy refusal to budge she has become famous for. She wasn’t going to postpone Britain’s exit. She wasn’t going to agree to a second referendum. She wasn’t going to rule out exiting without an agreement. European leaders were equally stubborn saying there was no room for reopening negotiations on the exit now that the deal was rejected.

Then last week, the president of the European Union, Donald Tusk, put his oar into the muddy waters of Brexit. Making the waters even muddier he said: “There should be special places in hell for those who promoted Brexit without even a sketch of a plan how to carry it out safely.”

That provoked outrage with Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the Commons, describing the remarks as “pretty unacceptable and pretty disgraceful” and demanding an apology.

Outrageous though, the European Union president’s remark may have been undiplomatic, they appear to be his way of saying he regards Britain as being in a mess created by its politicians. At the same time he seems to be saying that Europe is not going to help May pull Britain out of that mess. He clearly sees the heart of the problem as being the irresponsibility of the Brexit campaign.

The Conservative Brexiteers’ demand for a referendum on leaving the European Union was irresponsible from the start because they never planned for the consequences in case of a victory. Their campaign during the referendum was marked by demagogy, slogans like “make Britain great again”, lies like the claim that Turkey would soon be joining the European Union, the false promise of independent trade deals, and dismissing the very real threat to British business and industries leaving the European Union would pose.

The demagogy has continued in the uncertainty which has followed the Brexiteer’s victory in the referendum. Now a new irresponsible threat has been added. It is the threat of dire political consequences if the Brexiteers demand for a total break with Europe is not met, or if as they put it, “the voice of the people is ignored.” If the 28% who didn’t vote in the referendum are taken into account, nowhere near half the population voted leave.

The reason May’s plan failed was her effort to avoid any possibility of a hard border between Northern Ireland, a part of Britain, and the Republic of Ireland.

A soft border which allowed for the free movement of people and goods was an essential feature of the agreement that ended 30 years of terrorist violence by Protestant paramilitary organisations wanting Northern Ireland to remain in Britain and Roman Catholic paramilitaries wanting Ireland to be united.

The exit from Europe the Brexiteers want would mean the imposition of a hard border again because Northern Ireland and the Republic would no longer be in the same customs union. With a hard border the revival of Catholic terrorism is more than likely. For my money just the possibility of that justifies Tusk’s criticism of the Brexiteers for their irresponsibility.

(The views expressed are personal)

First Published: Feb 10, 2019 11:27 IST