IRELAND and Europe have not been kind to British Prime Ministers. History tells us that leaders have been undone by one or the other. Only the beleaguered Theresa May could fall victim to both.
She finds herself in a very tricky position at home, in Brussels and over the water in Ireland. Why didn’t Mrs May’s plethora of advisors remind her that one word – “religion” – could sum up the last 600 or so years of Irish history, followed closely by “border”?
Could there be a sinister plot afoot to throw her entirely off-course by letting her trap herself in her own net? Or is it just a case of ineptitude on a grand scale?
I knew from the moment the Tories signed a post-election pact with the ultra-right wing Protestant DUP (Democratic Unionist Party) that there would be trouble ahead. Surely she, too, must have understood some of the ramifications, and some of the compromises, that her Government would be forced to make?
Her blundering has now not only made her look inept in Europe, but it has also set off clamouring across the UK. If Northern Ireland is to made a special case over EU departure conditions, why not Scotland? Wales? London? Manchester? Yorkshire?
This state of potential disintegration should be an absolute gift for Her Majesty’s Opposition. Yet, when Shadow Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, Sir Keir Starmer, took to the floor of the House of Commons to lambast his opposite number David Davis, his words of victory had a hollow ring. There’s a simple reason for that. It’s because there is nothing behind them. No one knows what the Opposition would do, because they haven’t told us.
The position of Labour on the crucial matter of Europe is especially pertinent in our region. In the EU referendum last year, only Leeds, Harrogate and York opted to Remain in Europe. In many places the margin in favour was extremely slim, but why did Yorkshire vote overwhelmingly to leave? It’s because ordinary people felt let down by Labour, the party which they have historically expected to represent their interests.
Ticking “Leave” was as much a protest vote at the failure of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to engage voters on crucial matters such as immigration and employment as it was a public judgement on the state of the country. If only Corbyn and his advisors had come up then with a clear and coherent strategy on how to best approach our future membership of the EU, the political landscape could now be a lot less rocky.
Who knows? We could still be there, the referendum consigned to history, that misguided snap election not called and Theresa May not left at the mercy of the DUP to keep her in a job.
We talk about how the Prime Minister’s miscalculations have now landed her in hot water. However, senior Labour politicians are just as guilty of failing to see further than the end of their nose. And they remain in this state of blinkered denial. Keir Starmer going for the jugular in the House of Commons may hold a gruesome appeal, but it’s nowhere near a clear and precise policy outlining what Labour would do, and say, if it was Jeremy Corbyn flying to Brussels to meet Jean-Claude Juncker.
If Labour is committed to providing an alternative government, they owe it to the disenchanted millions who voted Leave to come up with a credible solution for our membership of the EU. Excuse my cynicism, but don’t hold your breath.
I’m reminded of Lord Kitchener’s call to arms in the First World War – “your country needs you”. Yet where are Corbyn and his crew when the public is so desperately in need of political sense from a fearsome Opposition? I’ll tell you where they are. On a private mission to destroy the very party they are supposed to be in charge of, too concerned with outing every moderate at local and national level in order to establish their new world order of public-school socialism.
Nature abhors a vaccum, and politics fills it with blame and bile. The last thing we need is for the current difficulties to provide yet another excuse to make political capital.
This state of impasse does no one, politician or member of the public, any good. Until the terms of Brexit are agreed – or even reversed – the British economy stalls, investment in our industries and exports is uncertain, the housing market stagnates and every single political fissure opens up, as we have seen this week with the bitterness over the border issue.
And as for us, the ordinary people caught in the middle, we are reminded in no uncertain terms that the United Kingdom has never been more divided. Right now, it’s a disunited country with a chaotic government helmed by a panicking Prime Minister and an Opposition led by a wrecking ball.