Brexit blog: Ever the same

The killing of young journalist Lyra McKee on the streets of Creggan overshadows everything in Derry at present.  And there has been widespread speculation that dissident republicans have been energised by Brexit.

Certainly dissident republicans supported Brexit.  They believed it created opportunities for them, including making a united Ireland more likely.  (The actions of the dissidents, however, probably reduce the prospects in the short term of Irish reunification, by discouraging people in the Republic from favouring the idea.  Nor will they encourage any favourable shift in unionist opinion.)

However, security analysts do not believe recent dissident actions are directly related to Brexit.  The ability of the police to monitor dissidents may, though, have become restricted by having to devote much of their resources to Brexit preparations.

Meanwhile, Scottish first secretary Nicola Sturgeon has indicated that Brexit is encouraging the Scottish government to prepare for another independence referendum.  She argues that Brexit is likely to reshape relationships between the UK government and the devolved administrations – with potentially more power being taken by Westminster.

In terms of UK politics, things move on, without actually changing.  The Brexit leaving date has now been delayed by the EU to perhaps Halloween.  But it could happen earlier if the Withdrawal Agreement somehow does now get through Parliament.  Or if a Withdrawal Bill, instead, goes through the House of Commons.  It is currently rumoured that this is being prepared, though it is difficult to see how it would be passed by the House of Commons when the Withdrawal Agreement has been rejected three times.

Discussions continue between Theresa May’s government and the Labour Party, supposedly to agree a compromise.  But there is widespread scepticism about any prospects for success.  At the very minimum, Jeremy Corbyn would require membership of a customs union with the EU, as well as a close relationship with the single market.  That outcome would create a severe breach in the Conservative Party – even worse than there is already.

But a successful compromise would also create conflicts within the Labour Party, which contains various views on what would be an acceptable outcome and very little willingness to compromise.

It seems very unlikely that Theresa May would be willing to go down in history as the leader who destroyed the Conservative Party, so it seems difficult to believe that the negotiations between government and opposition will succeed.

It is possible that there is time before the end of October for Theresa May to resign as leader of the Conservative Party and to be replaced by perhaps Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Jeremy Hunt, or Dominic Raab.  However, the potential replacements would be in no better position than she is to get a majority for any Brexit outcome through the House of Commons.

Meanwhile, Nigel Farage’s newly launched Brexit Party is leading in the opinion polls for the European Parliament elections which now look inevitable in the month of May.  If this is converted into a major success for Farage in the elections, and a bad outcome for Theresa May, then the Conservative Party will be in turmoil – potentially making a Brexit resolution even more difficult.

Some European leaders hope that this uncertainty will lead to a second referendum.  But it seems unlikely that a bill to approve a new referendum would be approved by the UK Parliament.  And if it was, there may not be a majority in the electorate for retaining EU membership – with any result likely to be as disputed as was the first referendum result.  Moreover, the UK could be a very disruptive EU member after this, if somehow the UK did stay in.

The mood within Europe is increasingly persuaded that the UK will leave – and that it is now better for the EU that the UK does go, so that EU member states can address all their other problems.  But without any obvious route to Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement being passed by Parliament the mood within the EU has become resigned to the most likely outcome – that the UK may leave the EU in October, but without any deal.

That could be very painful for the north west of Ireland.

The latest Brexit podcast is now available here and contains an interview with Emma DeSouza on the latest situation of her legal case, in which she is seeking as someone born in Northern Ireland who has exercised her right to Irish citizenship to obtain approval for her American husband to live with her.

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