Voters must have final say

Posted By: April 06, 2019

Distributed to Congress by Irish National Caucus

Irish News Editorial.Belfast.Saturday, April 6, 2019
The intensive Brexit talks between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn, which were stumbling last night, are likely to provide a defining or perhaps a concluding moment for either or both of their careers.

Mrs.May has plainly concluded that her ill-advised alliance with the DUP has long since run its course and that basic parliamentary arithmetic pushes her towards contemplating an understanding with Labor if she is ever to finalize a viable withdrawal agreement.

Mr. Corbyn surprised many observers through his own previous overtures to the DUP, a party which represents the antithesis of everything he has stood for throughout his decades of activism but has now been handed the kind of opportunity to influence a serving prime minister which is very seldom extended to a leader of the opposition.

There is a central irony behind their discussions, as Mrs. May was a convinced Remainer who is now attempting to present herself as pro-Brexit while Mr. Corbyn is widely believed to be engaging from precisely the opposite direction.

Both are under considerable pressure, but Mrs. May, who has already announced that she will not be leading her party into the next general election, has probably less to lose than Mr. Corbyn, who, on the basis of the latest opinion polls but with his 70th birthday just weeks away, can still see a route to Downing Street.

It is not impossible that the two sides could reach a consensus on a plan which would allow the UK to stay in a customs union, with intriguing hints that even the DUP could live with such an outcome.

The crunch would come for Mr. Corbyn if he attempts to push through a deal with Mrs. May which does not insist that the final proposals are endorsed by the public through a process which is increasingly being characterized as a confirmatory ballot.

A second referendum, which would be a more accurate description, was always a logical and honorable way out of the Brexit crisis which is threatening devastating economic consequences for both Britain and Ireland.

Those who claim it would undermine democracy ignore the fact that the Conservative government was handed a firm mandate for a legally binding five-year term of office in 2015, only to insist that changed circumstances required another general election barely two years later which in the event turned out disastrously for the party.

The bottom line is that the wording of the 2016 referendum was so deficient that it allowed the campaign to be dominated by completely misleading allegations and left the unfortunate Mrs. May in an almost impossible negotiating position.

She and Mr. Corbyn have a responsibility to jointly explore all the options left on the table, but, whether it is through a referendum or a general election, the final decision deserves to be placed in the hands of the electorate.