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As I See It

May must change course or she’ll be the big loser

Terry smiling headThe collapse of talks in Brussels not only stalls the Brexit negotiations, it may also prove fatal for Mrs May’s premiership.

Her attempt to broker a deal on the Irish border without first securing the backing of her key partners in Northern Ireland beggars belief. Ironically, it was the Irish Republic that was fully behind her plan for there to be no hard border with the north in exchange for Northern Ireland to retain single market and customs union membership of the EU.

DUP leader Arlene Foster’s eleventh hour insistence that she would not accept any special status for Northern Ireland as the UK left the EU threw the talks into chaos.

We now have a situation in which a small party in one corner of the UK is dictating terms in a manner Nicola Sturgeon could only dream of. Because of Mrs May’s delicately balanced power in the Commons, which relies on the DUP’s “supply and confidence” arrangement, she knows that if she presses ahead without the DUP’s agreement her government will fall.

Her only other option appears to lie in the whole of the UK’s continued membership of the single market and customs union, and that would mean, among other things, accepting the free movement of labour, a decision that would split her party.

Nicola Sturgeon, the Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones and the London Mayor Sadiq Khan will see the chaos as a potential breakthrough in forcing Mrs May’s hand on these key demands.

The Brexit vote was bound to unravel as a new relationship was forged

The odds must favour her taking this second route and toughing it out with her Brexit hardliners. Mrs May has to surrender her position and accept that Brexit no longer means Brexit, only a partial withdrawal. The alternative is no deal and a disabled government with nowhere to go.

This is how I expected the EU relationship to turn out in a piece written immediately after the referendum… “Trading agreements cannot be undone overnight and, in any case, the likelihood is that few on either side will want to undo the best of these deals if they provide mutual benefits. It is inevitable that efforts will be made to keep these intact.

I see nothing to change my view and Mrs May will need to accept the inevitable if she is to survive. Call it compromise, a climbdown, a u-turn. Whatever term is most palatable to Mrs May she will have to change course and stop trying too hard to protect her party’s interests ahead of any others.



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