Coveney clarity over Brexit issue welcome

Posted By: May 21, 2019

Irish News Editorial. Belfast. Tuesday, May 21, 2019

TÁNAISTE Simon Coveney has injected some much-needed realism into the fevered debate sweeping the Conservative Party and the latest manifestation of its Brexit fantasy.

With the beleaguered Theresa May now cast firmly in the role of ‘outgoing prime minister,’ a range of largely unpersuasive and unpromising figures are jostling to become her successor as Tory leader and occupant of Number 10.

Mrs. May’s resilience has repeatedly confounded critics and commentators who have predicted the end of her tenure.

However, a drubbing from Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party in this week’s European Parliament elections will hasten her arrival at the exit door, with the expectation that MPs will shove Mrs. May through it by yet again failing to back her Withdrawal Agreement, which is due to return to Parliament next month.

It says much for the disarray at Westminster that Boris Johnson has emerged as the leading contender, despite his obvious and well-established unsuitability for the role.

Mr. Johnson has, of course, been here in the past. Before his campaign imploded, he was a front-runner during the contest in which Mrs. May prevailed.

This time, his leadership pitch includes a pledge to force the European Union to rewrite the Withdrawal Agreement.

Any promise to renegotiate finds an overwhelming favorite among the Conservative Party members who will decide the leadership.

It is clear that whoever follows Mrs. May will be propelled into Downing Street on the strength of their determination to scrap the current Brexit deal and force the EU back to the negotiating table.

Mr. Coveney, in a measured response to the chaos within the Conservative Party, repeated the position of the Dublin government and other EU administrations by reaffirming that the withdrawal agreement was “not up for renegotiation”.

This would remain the case, he said, even if there was a new prime minister.

“The personality might change,” he explained, “but the facts don’t.”

He pointed out that the Withdrawal Agreement was negotiated between the EU and the UK over a period of more than two-and-a-half years, and that it had been backed by the British government and cabinet.

Mr. Coveney’s intervention will be welcomed by all who appreciate the complexity and texture of Brexit, especially in relation to the position of Northern Ireland and the majority of voters who wish to remain in the EU.

A change of prime minister won’t alter the Withdrawal Agreement, but it could harden the nature of Brexit.

If a figure in the mold of Mr. Johnson does become leader, a no deal Brexit becomes more likely – a disastrous scenario, particularly for the north.

It remains the case that a second referendum is the more sensible means of charting a way forward, for all concerned.