The Ireland fiasco proves Theresa May cannot be trusted with Brexit

 
Brian Monteith
BRITAIN-POLITICS
Until attitudes or personnel change in Downing Street, this is likely to be a highly divisive and messy Brexit (Source: Getty)

It all started so well.

A convincing and compassionate speech when she accepted the leadership of her party, and then afterwards too when she became Prime Minister. Another speech, her Global Britain strategy, delivered at Lancaster House earlier this year, laid out how exactly her Brexit would mean Brexit.

Since then, Theresa May’s performance has been disappointing, to say the least, and this week’s confusion and embarrassment over the Irish border question is as low a moment as she has faced.

Read more: The Irish border requires fudge and compromise – get used to it

Make no mistake, May’s problems all come from unforced errors. She can blame the EU for gaming her and her negotiating team, but that’s what happens in negotiations.

She could and should have had been far more on the front foot by embarrassing Brussels about its own failings, its own issues, and how, if they do not offer the right deal, more problems will arise in the EU than in the UK.

Unfortunately, this campaign style of politics does not come naturally to the Prime Minister, and it is proving to be a real weakness in her premiership.

The Irish border question is a red herring. If the UK seeks to trade openly, as May has said it would, there will be no need for UK border posts between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

The UK’s tariffs can be the same as those used by the EU under the published WTO rates – or even lower, like those of Singapore or Switzerland. Such an arrangement would not require border checks, and tariffs or regulations that might apply could be dealt with in advance or after any crossborder journey. This already happens for the transport of goods between the two countries, where rates of duty, taxation, and some regulations are different, and this requires no trucks to be pulled over or inspections of contents.

Likewise, the movement of people between the two jurisdictions is guaranteed under the Common Travel Agreement and requires no passports to be inspected.

In short, the idea of British border posts being built in Northern Ireland that might kick off a Provisional IRA campaign, thus ending the peace process, is a fantasy – or in some people’s eyes, wishful thinking. That the Irish Taoiseach has become involved in raising the temperature should be roundly condemned, rather than given a right of veto by Donald Tusk.

But where is our Prime Minister in pointing these details out? Where is she in calling out the falsehoods, the scaremongering, and the double standards of her opponents?

It was only a few months ago that the Irish government was calling on the EU to give it a special status – but when they were ignored, they have now turned tail and weaponised the border.

The DUP cannot be blamed for holding fast to its position that the UK should be indivisible; it is the party’s raison d’etre. So why could the Prime Minister not see this herself? The DUP is a party that has made its position clear and never deviated – and it has been willing over the last six months to forego being in government rather than concede a point of principle.

Why then did May think she could take the DUP for granted? I do not buy the idea that DUP leader Arlene Foster at first consented to a new regulatory arrangement, but then was shocked when she saw the detail.

More worrying is that our Prime Minister was even willing to offer such a concession in the first place. What was she thinking? Could she not see it would be jumped upon by nationalists and opportunists in the rest of the UK to demand something similar for Scotland, Wales and London?

I was rooting for May to make a success of her premiership, by delivering a clean Brexit – I really was. The debacle of the last few days has, however, done it for me. I no longer believe our Prime Minister is capable of delivering the Brexit we need or that the public deserves.

The problem the country faces is that we are being outfoxed by the EU political elite and fifth column politicians here at home who take their side.

We need a campaigning Prime Minister who gets the government’s message across and talks up the prospects of how we can prosper with or without a trade deal – but is not scared if it has to be the latter.

Until attitudes or personnel change in Downing Street, this is likely to be a highly divisive and messy Brexit – and the PM will only have herself to blame.

Read more: Hammond: Cabinet has not discussed Brexit "end state" specifics

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