Mag­i­cal think­ing abounds on Brexit – Martina Devlin:

Mag­i­cal think­ing abounds on Brexit – but if May is crushed along with her deal, her ri­vals will be left with an es­cape act be­yond the pow­ers of Hou­dini

Irish Independent - - News Brexit -

WEL­COME to the world of mag­i­cal think­ing. Other­wise known as the only com­mon ground on both sides of the stayor-go Brexit gulf. And what a chasm it is.

Mag­i­cal think­ing means peo­ple be­ing highly in­vested in be­liev­ing their pre­ferred out­come will hap­pen – in di­rect con­tra­dic­tion to the ev­i­dence. So, on the one hand are Borisites who claim the With­drawal Agree­ment should be re­jected and it’s sim­ply a case of go­ing back to Europe to de­mand a bet­ter deal. That’s mag­i­cal think­ing with bells on.

On the other hand are Re­main­ers with their fin­gers crossed oth­ers will see sense and the process can be re­versed – that Brexit doesn’t mean Brexit af­ter all. And in a space she oc­cu­pies al­most alone is Theresa May, pitch­ing a deal not even Hou­dini with his bag of tricks could pull off.

One way or an­other, a show­down is loom­ing on Tues­day when Mrs May’s de­par­ture plan is cer­tain to be de­feated be­cause the par­lia­men­tary arith­metic is “chal­leng­ing”. So, what fol­lows? Take your pick from a range of po­ten­tially chaotic pos­si­bil­i­ties: she top­ples, her gov­ern­ment falls, or both. The only un­am­bigu­ous fact here is that Bri­tain is di­vided along deeply scored fault lines.

It all be­gan with David Cameron, whose mag­i­cal think­ing al­lowed him to be­lieve Bri­tain would vote to stay in the EU even if he ran a sub­stan­dard ref­er­en­dum cam­paign. In­stead of si­lenc­ing anti-EU voices in his party he handed a mega­phone to them. Oh to be a fly on the wall in the Cameron house­hold to­day.

Mrs May has wan­dered into the mag­i­cal think­ing zone, too, hop­ing against hope her With­drawal Agree­ment will squeak through Par­lia­ment. The deal is un­pop­u­lar on all sides of the de­bate but she con­tin­ues to plough ahead, cit­ing the na­tional in­ter­est as she at­tempts to har­vest sup­port.

The Labour back­ing she needs isn’t forth­com­ing, how­ever – that party scents a snap gen­eral elec­tion. As for the Tories, they are shear­ing off in var­i­ous di­rec­tions.

Is Mrs May’s po­lit­i­cal ca­reer in the bal­ance? That de­pends. Usu­ally, a leader would step down if a deal of this mag­ni­tude was re­buffed. But these are not nor­mal times. Power-hun­gry peo­ple are cir­cling her, the kind who’d feed their first­born child to a python in re­turn for the keys to 10 Down­ing Street. Her vul­ner­a­bil­ity af­ter the vote will be their op­por­tu­nity. How­ever, the Tories are di­vided and any chal­lenger may not drum up suf­fi­cient sup­port.

Mrs May is a dogged fighter and her whips are busy-busy this week­end on her be­half, but it’s dif­fi­cult to see how her gov­ern­ment can be on any­thing ex­cept bor­rowed time. Her prob­lem is an in­abil­ity to build cross-party sup­port.

The con­fi­dence and sup­ply pact with the DUP has turned to dust: its mem­bers voted against her this week when the gov­ern­ment was held in con­tempt of Par­lia­ment. And the DUP 9 (be­cause num­ber 10 shirt Ian Pais­ley Junior is out of ac­tion tem­po­rar­ily) will vote against her again on Tues­day.

Mag­i­cal thinkers in the DUP? To the nth de­gree. They are con­vinced their ac­tions will strengthen the union – in fact, Brexit threat­ens it. They have added bricks and mor­tar to the case for a united Ire­land.

“The harder the Brexit, the louder we’ll cheer” is the DUP’s po­si­tion. Its core base might warm to such ma­cho talk, but the mid­dle ground is aghast at this anti-busi­ness pos­tur­ing. A group of North­ern busi­ness lead­ers, farm­ers and civic so­ci­ety

If May re­tains the premier­ship, even af­ter de­feat, she will have no choice but to ad­vance a new plan within 21 days. Good­bye Christ­mas

representatives trav­elled to West­min­ster on Thurs­day to re­it­er­ate their sup­port for the With­drawal Agree­ment. But if they per­suade the DUP to change di­rec­tion then I’m a uni­corn.

Nor will the Scot­tish Na­tional Party back Mrs May be­cause her deal leaves Scot­land at a com­pet­i­tive dis­ad­van­tage com­pared with North­ern Ire­land. The least it wants is the same re­la­tion­ship with the sin­gle mar­ket and cus­toms union.

Mean­while, all any­one can do now in Ire­land is watch. Af­ter be­ing party to ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween Bri­tain and Europe for more than two years, the Ir­ish gov­ern­ment is no longer in a po­si­tion to in­flu­ence events.

Come what may, there is a strong prob­a­bil­ity of tu­mult and the prime minister will be jos­tled at best. The prob­a­bil­ity is she will be crushed by it. Al­ready, she’s bruised by that re­buke from an in­creas­ingly as­sertive House of Com­mons, when her gov­ern­ment was held in con­tempt of Par­lia­ment for only pub­lish­ing an out­line of the at­tor­ney gen­eral’s ad­vice to cab­i­net on the de­par­ture deal. That was reme­died in jig time and the guid­ance made pub­lic in full. But the dam­age was done.

It’s the first time a Bri­tish gov­ern­ment has been found in con­tempt by Par­lia­ment and un­der­scores her ad­min­is­tra­tion’s fragility. It em­pha­sises how Mrs May’s gov­ern­ment is no longer in charge – control is pass­ing over to Par­lia­ment’s hands.

The pur­pose of gov­ern­ment is strat­egy: it sets the di­rec­tion and charts a coun­try’s course for­ward. But Par­lia­ment is now say­ing it can’t or won’t trust the gov­ern­ment to do it.

In a sec­ond re­buke, fur­ther ev­i­dence of an as­sertive Par­lia­ment flex­ing its mus­cles, MPs voted for more control over the next steps to be taken if her deal falls, in line with ex­pec­ta­tions.

Clearly, no­body is sat­is­fied by the With­drawal Agree­ment. With the Good Fri­day Agree­ment, there was a sense of progress and mu­tual ad­van­tages.

One ne­go­tia­tor in­volved in both deals told me he ex­pe­ri­enced ela­tion af­ter the Good Fri­day treaty but felt flat af­ter this deal be­cause no­body ben­e­fits. It gives nei­ther Brex­i­teers nor Re­main­ers what they want and Ire­land will suf­fer, one way or an­other. Yet it is an im­prove­ment on no deal be­cause some­thing closer to cer­tainty is of­fered.

It’s im­pos­si­ble to be­lieve a highly fo­cused in­di­vid­ual such as Mrs May is with­out a backup idea. She just won’t ad­mit it. A Plan B is for oth­ers to ad­vance, she told BBC Ra­dio 4 this week. Her po­si­tion is: “The op­tions are there: there’s a deal, no deal or no Brexit.”

No men­tion of a new deal. But if she re­tains the premier­ship, even af­ter Com­mons de­feat, her gov­ern­ment will have no choice but to ad­vance a new plan ap­par­ently within a 21-day time­frame. Good­bye Christ­mas.

Labour is bank­ing on a gen­eral elec­tion. As for the DUP, it can’t fancy fac­ing its un­happy mid­dle ground on the doorsteps. It might prop up Mrs May for a time, huff and puff though it will, un­less it knows there’s a vi­able can­di­date within the Tories to re­place her. Does Boris Johnson have the num­bers or is he all abra­cadabra and no sub­stance?

Fi­nally, the EU’s high­est court has said Bri­tain can uni­lat­er­ally can­cel Brexit. But the no­tion of Brexit van­ish­ing in a puff of smoke also counts as mag­i­cal think­ing. And so, we wait.

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