The Brexit phoney war is over and it is time for Ire­land to pick our side

The Sligo Champion - - OPINION -

THE re­sult of the Brexit ref­er­en­dum i n June 2016 sent shock­waves through Europe – and through the Briti sh Conser va­tive party – with many f ear­ing the vote would st ar t an ‘ i nde­pen­dence’ domino eff ec t across the con­ti­nent. Given the scale of the po­lit­i­cal and demo­cratic cri­sis caused by Brexit it is per­haps un­der­stand­able that most Euro­pean Gov­ern­ments – in­clud­ing that of the UK – didn’t know how to re­act in the im­me­di­ate wake of the shock re­sult.

Now it seems a line is fi­nally be­ing drawn in the sand and the Brexit ‘phoney war’ may be com­ing to an end.

It is prob­a­bly no co­in­ci­dence that the re­main­ing 27 EU mem­ber Gov­ern­ments have de­cided to get tough with Theresa May’s in­creas­ingly in­ept ad­min­is­tra­tion in the wake of the Cat­alo­nian in­de­pen­dence cri­sis that has en­gulfed Spain in re­cent weeks.

To say Brexit took Europe by sur­prise would be an enor­mous un­der­state­ment but the vote was as much of a shock to the UK es­tab­lish­ment, in­clud­ing many prom­i­nent ‘Leave’ sup­port­ers.

For 16 months May’s Gov­ern­ment and her vastly ex­pe­ri­enced civil ser­vice have been run­ning around like head­less chick­ens as they at­tempt, in vain, to come up with a plan for Brexit.

Their ef­forts haven’t been helped by the grotesque po­lit­i­cal pan­tomime be­ing played out by the Con­ser­va­tive party whose mem­bers seem more con­cerned with who will oc­cupy Num­ber 10 rather than the eco­nomic cliff the UK is about to go over.

By con­trast, the re­main­ing 27 EU Gov­ern­ments – many of them an­noyed by the ar­ro­gant im­pe­rial at­ti­tudes of some prom­i­nent Brexit sup­port­ers – have used the last year and half well.

While the UK’s ne­go­tia­tors still don’t ap­pear to have any idea how Brexit can be achieved, the EU gov­ern­ments have used the time to de­velop and adopt a strong, uni­fied pol­icy.

For her part, Teresa May – who looks more and more like a lame duck Prime Min­is­ter with ev­ery pass­ing day – seems to have re­alised that the dis­ar­ray in her Gov­ern­ment has pre­sented the EU with a ma­jor ad­van­tage.

In her dis­as­trous 2017 Gen­eral Elec­tion cam­paign Teresa May con­stantly re­ferred to her Gov­ern­ment as ‘strong and sta­ble’.

Iron­i­cally, that’s the very mantra May and the Tories’ Brexit ad­ver­saries seem to have adopted for the EU.

In that con­text it is re­as­sur­ing to see Leo Varad­kar adopt­ing the EU’s tough stance with his com­ments on the need for ma­jor trade UK con­ces­sions if a ‘ hard Brexit’ is to be avoided.

The bor­der is­sue makes Brexit a far more com­plex is­sue for Ire­land but for too long the Gov­ern­ment in the Repub­lic has adopted a ‘softly, softly’ ap­proach to the is­sue.

Any re­turn to a hard bor­der would be a dis­as­ter for Ire­land north and south but it is some­thing that we must be pre­pared for.

If it is to be avoided the EU has to make the UK face re­al­ity and make con­ces­sions. The only way to do that is for the EU 27 to present a uni­fied front. We must be a key part of that com­bined ef­fort.

The bor­der is­sue gives the Repub­lic a po­ten­tially in­flu­en­tial po­si­tion in the Brexit talks and we must take ad­van­tage of that. The phoney war is over. It’s time to pick a side and stick to it.

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