What will May put first — the Conservative Party or the Union?

Today's British-Irish summit spotlights the prime minister's dilemma

Image: Scottish Government

‘One of the most important ever’ — That is how Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has described today’s gathering of the British Irish Council in Wales, which will to consider the outcome of the UK’s referendum on membership of the European Union.

Sturgeon is right. What the meeting speaks to is that along with Brexit meaning Brexit, the biggest challenge for Theresa May is keeping the UK together as a geographical entity, and it is difficult to see how she can proceed.

In Scotland, during her first official trip there a week ago today she declared that Article 50 would not be activated until a UK wide approach had been agreed.

That will be impossible to achieve since the Scottish Government’s policy is simple – to remain in the EU whatever it takes.  David Davis, leading Brexit discussions for the UK Government meanwhile has warned that Scotland cannot have a veto over the negotiations.

The sense of impending doom for Scotland’s place in the UK is palpable and very real and can only really be resolved either through a screeching U-turn in SNP policy, or Scotland going it alone.

Faced with such circumstances, the UK Government cannot in all fairness resist calls for a vote north of the border on its future place in the UK, the EU and the world.

By Monday of this week it was Cardiff’s turn to host the new Prime Minister. In a nation that voted for Brexit, Ms May did at least find a First Minister who accepted that the UK would be leaving the EU. But Carwyn Jones does insist that Wales must retain access to the single market.

Just days later at Prime Minister’s Questions, the arch Eurosceptic Conservative, Sir Edward Leigh, called on the Prime Minister to make his day and commit to leaving the Single Market. Square pegs and round holes spring to mind.

And then there is Northern Ireland and what happens with the border with the rest of Ireland.

The argument that the UK can gain greater control over who comes in and goes out of the country under Brexit, without imposing checks on the Northern Ireland/Ireland border simply does not tally. It can be only be one or the other, and either way, someone is going to be left bitterly disappointed.

And so, today’s meeting of the British Irish Council is an important opportunity for all components of our islands to come up with a clear, coherent set of proposals for Brexit, the kind that the UK Government has so far failed to do.

The UK as we know it stands on the edge of destruction. Ms May’s honeymoon is likely to prove short-lived as she soon begins to disappointed vocal politicians all over the country.

It’s hard to see how any of this can be fudged. Something will have to give – the right wing of the Conservative Party or the UK as it is currently constituted.

Theresa May will need to decide what matters most to her and to her government.

Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor at Left Foot Forward

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