No palatable Brexit options now, so UK needs more time

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

The appalling saga of the implementation of Brexit entered a new phase last night with Theresa May’s address to the nation.

She said that people are fed up with MPs not making a decision and that it was “high time” that Parliament made a choice on how to proceed.

But that is more easily said than done. To an extraordinary degree, Westminster is divided in multiple different ways. A delay to the end of June (which the EU seems set to agree) is a no brainer. This should have been agreed months ago.

Brexiteers had an attachment to March 29 which, while understandable, has been utterly unrealistic since the detail of the Withdrawal Agreement (WA) emerged late last year, and the scale of the opposition within the Tory Party.

Anyone who wants the UK to hold together and who also supports Brexit has three main options.

A longer extension of at least a year, including perhaps elections to the European Parliament, but certainly not if it comes with any conditions from the EU such as a second referendum. That would probably mean a two-option choice of the WA or Remain: a wholly unacceptable set of options.

If the EU insists on such terms, then the second main option is leaving with no deal at the end of June. But while that avoids the backstop, it could lead to London imposing worse.

The third is a general election. An election might solve little, but it is distinctly possible it will result in a mandate that leads to a larger parliamentary majority for a clean EU break.

None of these three options are remotely palatable, but we must be clear that there are no palatable options now.

The EU insisted on a backstop that has major constitutional implications, and all we are hearing now in the way of reassurance is suggestions of theoretical escape routes. In reality, Northern Ireland is unlikely ever to escape the EU orbit.

Unionists need much more time to assess this matter. If, for example, that ultimately leads to a much softer Brexit is that not better than a border in the Irish Sea?