John Downing: ‘May clings to hope she can finally lug her mouldy old deal over the line with big-stick approach’
‘A hero who sneezed, abruptly seized retreat, and reversed it to victory.”
Thus rang the infectious theme song to ‘F Troop’, one of the first television comic parodies of those heroic American cowboy movies. The series dates way back to the mid-1960s, but is such an ever-green that it has often been re-run and will never age.
This tale of epically incompetent US Cavalry soldiers, who manned ‘Fort Courage’ begins with a soldier collecting laundry whose sneezing fit is taken to be a coded order for a very successful attack.
This farcical tale has strange parallels with the story of one Theresa May, the crusader who we are told has a messianic mission to deliver Brexit.
Some people believe this embattled UK prime minister – twice already beaten by a ton in efforts to have her Brexit deal ratified at Westminster – just might “lose her way to an eventual win”.
Just like our incompetent US Cavalry men, she might take one of her many retreats “and reverse it to victory”.
Well, we have long ago thrown away the political rule book when it comes to observing the doings at what was once haughtily misnamed ‘The Mother of All Parliaments’.
Adopting the rampantly political abnormal to become the new normal, we brush aside the reality that two huge defeats on a fundamental issue would consign any other political leader to the dustbin of history.
Forget all that one-time reality and do a pragmatic political stock-take of where we are now, just 14 days from B-Day. Last night, the MPs voted convincingly to delay Brexit beyond the March 29 deadline.
And it also emerged that Mrs May will bid for “third time lucky” by running her mouldy-old deal past MPs again, along with some more cosmetic tweaks and ribbons attached.
If she defies hitherto received political logic, and gets a majority, she will seek a short delay until June 30 next.
If, as is likely, she loses one more time, then it’s a long-term extension. This is the big-stick threat to her own party’s ardent Brexiteers and the Democratic Unionist party.
It’s a plain and unvarnished message: take the exit door offered – or risk a long delay which could take Brexit into a fog of confusion from which it may next again emerge.
The message has not changed since Mrs May came back with her draft deal on November 25 last year, after a special EU leaders’ summit. It’s just that any clutter has been stripped out and the volume has been pumped up.
From an Irish point of view, we are at the nearest we can get to Brexit good news. The likelihood of a no-deal Brexit in a fortnight has heavily receded. The chances of a much softer Brexit, far from being as good as the UK staying in the EU, is becoming more likely.
But we must remind ourselves of some important facts. The remaining 27 EU members must give unanimous approval to any extension. It is very likely that they will do the decent thing here – but it cannot be taken for granted.
As we have noted before, many of the other governments will need to know what will beneficially change during an extension.
If it’s going to be more of the same, they are far less interested.
The idea of a longer extension, taking in negotiations on a future post-Brexit EU-UK trading relationship, would be of great interest for Ireland. It does raise the prospect of Brexit being considerably softened or even reversed.
But some more dramas must first be enacted. Mrs May’s third Brexit deal vote is expected on Wednesday and EU leaders gather the following day for a summit.