Sputnik: Last night British Prime Minister, Theresa May, avoided an all-out Tory civil war and the wrath of the Eurosceptic wing of her party when MPs defeated the proposal by six votes. How significant is this development and what does it mean for Brexit going forwards?
Claire Hanna: I think unfortunately Brexit is increasingly being seen as some sort of psycho-drama, particularly within the conservative party, and it’s hard to understand how MPs and the government can’t think how this is being perceived by the rest of Europe in terms of May’s credibility as a negotiating partner.
Sputnik: Conservative whips last night threatened to call a confidence vote that could bring down the government before a crucial vote on Tuesday on customs, raising the prospect of a national election. How likely is this prospect?
Claire Hanna: Time is running out. It’s not like a normal negotiation where failure is the status quo. By an act of law the UK is leaving the EU at the of next March, unless something else happens, so I don’t believe that the UK has several months to fight an election and go through all that but quite clearly, all the main parties will be asked exactly what their main plans are for Brexit. For Northern Ireland in particular, the cards fell very neatly from the two larger polarized parties here, and I think there could be some shift in that. Nobody really believed that Northern Irish MP could hold the balance of power in Westminster, but that certainly been the case and what these votes being won, with a handful in either direction, I think that will clarify a lot of minds in Northern Ireland because we are the region that will be most affected by Brexit.
Claire Hanna: The situation you have just described is accurate; it’s almost inconceivably reckless for a government to do this, to have so little in place. We can see that, from a Northern Irish perspective and the UK as a whole that [because of] the loss of growth business will simply not invest. They won’t open a new office, hire new staff and we can see that for Northern Ireland where we rely heavily on foreign investment, those enquires have gone through the floor. A no deal Brexit would be catastrophic for Northern Ireland, its uncertainty and tension and difficultly between London and Dublin feed the uncertainty. Northern Ireland doesn’t have a functioning assembly at the moment, amongst other issues; Brexit just drills a wedge between the main political parties. If the backstop is off the table, and there is no arrangement for managing the border that will have a catastrophic impact in Northern Ireland. It’s important to think of the border as not just a line to arrange the crossing of things, it’s obviously a regulatory border and it’s linked into so much of the peace and reconciliation between communities between communities. The reemergence of that border would be devastating.
* The Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) is a social-democratic political party in Northern Ireland.
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