Leading article

Theresa May still facing huge Brexit dilemma

When Theresa May said bluntly earlier this month that the only possible outcomes from her negotiations with the European Union were either `my deal, no deal or no Brexit,' most people on this side of the Irish Sea would readily both then and now have taken the third option.

Mrs May's prospects of holding on to her post as British prime minister looked bleak at that stage, with a wounding Conservative leadership contest widely regarded as inevitable and no final agreement from the rest of the EU to her proposals.

In fairness to her, she stuck resolutely to her task, the internal Tory challenge failed to materialise without entirely disappearing and her talks with the other EU states were brought to a successful conclusion yesterday.

Unfortunately for Mrs May, the most difficult obstacle of all, a vote in the House of Commons, is still looming, and, on all known calculations, the parliamentary numbers are stacked up against her.

The DUP has made clear again at its weekend conference that, despite its pact with the Tories, its MPs will be opposing Mrs May's initiative.

It was hardly a surprise to see Boris Johnson, whose political career has been so constantly surrounded by scandal and poor judgment, turn up at the DUP gathering, but even he must have been taken aback at the scale of the apology which Arlene Foster was forced to deliver over the party's involvement in the Renewable Heat Incentive debacle.

Although Mrs Foster said that the DUP was determined to learn lessons from the affair, her expression of regret would have carried much more weight if it had been offered to the RHI inquiry earlier this year.

The unmistakeable evidence from RHI is that the DUP is dysfunctional at a number of levels, and Mrs May's decision to enter into any arrangement with it was always destined to end in tears.

While the prime minister has impressed many observers through her personal resilience, the Tories remains bitterly divided over Europe and, with Labour pledging to oppose her forthcoming Westminster motion, the firm indications are that it is heading for defeat.

In that eventuality, the choices would appear to be that she would simply resign, although that goes against her grain, she could suggest that the Article 50 period for EU withdrawal should be extended beyond the present deadline in March, 2019, with all the associated complexities, or she might yet contradict all her previous public declarations by accepting the overwhelming case for a second referendum on the final Brexit resolution.

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