A failure of Westminster MPs to support British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s timetable for passing legislation on a Brexit deal has left the project in a new limbo, although one which is likely to be resolved this coming week.
Uncertainty over both a Westminster election date and a legally-mandated extension to the Brexit deadline must be resolved by next Thursday, when Britain could still crash disastrously out of the European Union, bringing the north of Ireland with it. In practise, the Tories have admitted that an extension to the deadline will take place, and their vow to quit the EU by October 31 will not be achieved.
The EU has said it will wait to see if the House of Commons backs Johnson’s call for a December election on Monday, before deciding how much of an extension to allow London.
Johnson has asked the EU for a delay until January 31st, as he was required to do under an Act of Parliament. He has made it clear, however, that he does not want an extension of that duration and is now pressing MPs to back his plan for a general election on December 12th.
MPs would have several weeks to table amendments to his withdrawal deal with the EU in the meantime, he says. The DUP are among those who wish to make changes to the deal, particularly in regard to the proposals for customs arrangements which would prevent checks being required along Britain’s border through Ireland.
Last week, the DUP’s ten votes at Westminster helped to stall Johnson’s plan for fast-track approval of the legislation.
The EU’s stance puts pressure on the Labour Party to back a general election when the issue is voted on in the Commons on Monday. They will be concerned that Tories have risen in opinion polls in recent weeks under Johnson, whose mantra of ‘get Brexit done’ has won support from an exhausted electorate.
‘IRELAND MUST MOVE ON’
Sinn Féin has again said the continuing chaos at Westminster points to the need for a distinct process to bring about Irish unification.
A border poll, a Six County vote on Irish unity, is likely to happen within five years due to the Brexit upheaval, Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O’Neill has said.
Polls show the necessity for debate and planning to begin on preparations for a border poll, and then beyond that to a united Ireland.
Ms O’Neill said a border poll could happen sooner than people expect. Speaking in Dublin, she said the collapse of the Berlin wall and subsequent reunification of east and west Germany shows that major political events can speed events up.
“Everything is moving in that direction. I believe it was moving there even before Brexit, but clearly Brexit has become a catalyst for it.
“What is important to note is the German example. I think with the Berlin wall, Germany was reunited within a year...the fact that events overtook and the country was unified within a year.”
Ms O’Neill said the “genie is out of the bottle” when it comes to the issue of a united Ireland.
“The prudent thing now is to start planning for it. If the Irish government does not want to fall into the same trap as the British government has in terms of Brexit, then now is the time to plan and have that conversation.”
She said negotiations between Britain, the EU and Ireland must take place before any border poll, so the “disorder” caused by Brexit will not happen again.
“The conversation does not have to be rancorous, it can be done in a very inclusive way,” she said.
“Regarding the current political situation, where nationalists are being treated as second class citizens, and to point to the Emma De Souza case, where her Irish citizenship is being brought into question because the British government never gave legislative effect to the Good Friday Agreement, so I think things are moving in that direction anyway.”
She added: “The Irish government must convene that conversation because I believe people who have a British identity will engage in that conversation.”