Theresa May’s plan to wrap up an agreement on the first stage of Brexit talks was scuppered at the last minute yesterday. Good, says the Sun. The paper argues that yesterday’s deadline was ‘always going to be a moveable feast’, and that ‘the Prime Minister is right not to agree a deal to meet a made-up deadline’. OK, it’s ‘disappointing’ that the PM will now need to do it ‘all over again later this week’. But the paper says May should remember that there is only one deadline that must be met: March 29th, 2019. Brexit is a process ’that will decide the future of our once-again sovereign country for decades to come’. ‘Let’s not rush it,’ the Sun concludes.
It should have been obvious to ‘anyone who has followed the politics’ of Northern Ireland for the last 50 years that a Brexit deal whereby the country ends up with a ‘different regulatory regime from the rest of the UK’ would not have been acceptable, says the Daily Telegraph. Yet ‘it appears Mrs May failed to consult the DUP before her talks’ yesterday, says the paper. This ‘is astonishing given how sensitive this matter is,’ the Telegraph argues. May has insisted that she is still ‘confident’ a deal can be struck in the coming days. But the Telegraph is sceptical of what assurances the DUP can be given to ensure that they do not pull the plug. The consequences if they do could be devastating for the government: ‘it would leave Mrs May without a working Commons majority,’ the Telegraph says. The PM has shown how ‘tough’ she can be in Brexit negotiations. Now, she must ‘demonstrate shrewdness, too’ concludes the Telegraph.
The draft text on the Brexit agreement which promised ‘continued regulatory alignment’ between Northern Ireland and Ireland appears to have ’been too close for comfort for the DUP’, says the Times, which agrees with the Telegraph that it is shocking the party’s ‘objections were not…answered in advance’. If this is the case, ‘serious questions will be asked about its already questionable political management’. Yet for all yesterday’s drama, the Times does find a positive: ‘it focused minds on the government’s next task’: to win over the DUP. There is no reason why this cannot be ‘achievable’, says the Times, which argues that ‘contrary to DUP claims, regulatory alignment is not the same as de facto membership of the single market’. Instead, it’s a ‘fudge that gives all sides leeway’. The PM now ‘has 48 hours to sell her fudge pudding to Mrs Foster. It may not be easy’, concludes the Times, ‘but it must be done.’.
The Guardian detects an air of ‘choreography’ in yesterday’s drama, suggesting that the failure to tie things up could be designed to win over ‘suspicious supporters’ on all sides, who want to see politicians ‘battling to the end’. Yet what is also now clear, says the paper, is that ‘something must give on the British side’ if ‘no deal’ ‘is to be avoided’. The Guardian says that yesterday ‘may have been the moment when Mrs May’s Brexit strategy came off the rails’. The government has, according to the Guardian, repeatedly ‘pretended that the Brexit process is simpler and easier than it actually is’. In the cold light of day that approach is being shown up to be untrue, suggests the paper, which says that as the deadline has approached ‘Mrs May has made sensible and belated concessions to reality that alarm the anti-European fanatics in her party and the press’. This has bought May some time, but perhaps it would have been better if the PM ‘had been more flexible about Brexit and had not made her abject pact with the DUP after the general election’. If she hadn’t, a deal could have been tied up yesterday, suggests the Guardian.