PM stuck in an impossible situation

Prime Minister Theresa May speaks in the House of Commons
Prime Minister Theresa May speaks in the House of Commons

Most of us find it hard to have any sympathy for politicians. They are well paid for what they do – or in the case of MLAs do not do – and too often put party ahead of wider interests. That helps explain why they are less well thought of by people than even journalists or estate agents.

When it comes to the person with the top job in politics – the prime minister – she does deserve some sympathy for her situation. Much of this is admittedly down to her own weakness and poor decision making, but nonetheless she must wake each morning with as much enthusiasm for the day ahead as a farmer going out to spread slurry. Her position is impossible; she has no real allies in her own party and cannot find a way to cut a deal with other parties to get a Brexit deal through Westminster. She is the only person who cannot see that her party has already split over Europe, just as it did over the Corn Laws in the 1840s. Yet she is still trying to fix something broken beyond repair.

Theresa May has stark choices. She can go on as she is and accept that her political epitaph will be as one of the weakest prime ministers in history. She accepted a poisoned chalice when she took the job, but her poor judgement and indecision has made matters worse. Her only option now is to go for a deal, probably based around a customs union, that will get Brexit agreed despite her eurosceptic backbenchers. She will never satisfy them, so she may as well drive a plan that will get through the House of Commons and end the indecision that is damaging business and the economy.

She needs to do this before the European elections, which will be a rout for her party. They could slump to below ten per cent of the vote in an election that will be all about Brexit. This has to be the first election in history where politicians will be campaigning to get elected to a parliament they do not want to attend. This is in stark contrast to the 27 other EU member states, where politicians want to be part of the parliament that will guide Europe through CAP reform into the 2020s.

The European elections in the UK will not change the facts. Compromise is the only way to get a deal through Westminster without a general election. A customs union as the basis of a deal is the best option to achieve this, and that would be no bad thing for agriculture. It would ensure access to our biggest and best market and would keep out cheap food imports. It would at the same time allow the UK to have an independent agricultural policy. It is a compromise from which leave and remain supporters in agriculture would gain. In Northern Ireland we have seen for years the politics a failure to compromise delivers.

The search for a deal to restore the Assembly has started again, but like Brexit if there is no compromise it is doomed to fail.

From selling and buying livestock to the highest of high wire politics the reality is that both sides in a deal can never get all they want. Progress depends on that being accepted. We accept it in day to day business, but not in politics. That light bulb remains switched off at Westminster and until someone finds a way to turn it on things are not going to change. At the moment the interests of the economy are the last thing on the mind of many politicians. We should never drop our cynicism to miss that reality. The Brexiteers of the Conservative party are only interested in their leadership ambitions; Labour still believes it can secure and win a general election if it hangs Theresa May out to dry.

Nigel Farage’s Brexit party wants to use the European elections to confirm that public opinion in the UK still favours an exit from the EU, ideally with no deal in place. Regardless of how they voted or how they now feel about the EU and Brexit, farmers know deep down that none of these politicians have their interests at heart. They are playing a bigger game, and if agriculture is a casualty of their political ambitions they will not care beyond a few crocodile tears in public.