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  • Lawrence Bailey

Stretching things out a bit longer

It must be very confusing, not to mention frustrating, for people who voted to leave the EU.

One person I know is furious at events in Westminster. She makes no bones about the fact that she voted out in order to curb immigration so that her daughter, who lives in Lincolnshire, can get a job as a nurse.

It turns out that there is currently a 38% unfilled vacancy rate for nursing in that part of the UK. Things have worsened since EU recruitment dropped. Interestingly, she seemed unimpressed when I mentioned this.

“Leave means leave”, she told me repeating the catch-all mantra that obscures the possibility that in some respects Brexit could be akin to shooting yourself in the foot in order to obtain the right to limp.

Yet as tempting as it might be to scoff at someone influenced by a single issue, it would be obtuse to think this same outlook doesn’t apply for many voters in most elections.

Usually it doesn’t matter. We accept that the politicians who eventually get elected and form a government may – or may not – take up the particular promise that got our support.

The difference with a referendum is the nature of the single yes-no outcome that both informs and instructs policy-makers, regardless of how complicated or unrealistic the ambition involved.

As events have proved, finding a workable approach that benefits most if not all sections of the public interests has eluded the government. There is no indication that parliament can do any better.

I’m acutely conscious that this column is being written several hours before MPs go through a series of indicative votes that explore various ways forward. From what I know of the options however, I suspect things will remain unresolved.

Unless Theresa May can achieve a Lazarus-style comeback for her flawed deal then my guess is that we’re headed for a long delay and a general election.

That didn’t turn out well for Mrs May last time. That said, there is little guarantee that she’ll be leading her party into the fray anyway.

Labour may have the same leader going forward but they’re unlikely to be given the benefit of the doubt by people who thought that the party stood for a particular path of action and have since been left disappointed.

As we know, the current electoral system is entirely capable of paving the way for a cobbled-together parliamentary coalition. Whether we see a rainbow government in Westminster will depend I guess on how firmly each nails its respective Leave and Remain colours to the mast.

There is also the tricky question of European elections scheduled for 23 May – which are integral to EU membership and probably un-achievable in the UK.

Meanwhile we are left with the continuing prospect of deluded junior ministers throwing up their hands at the disproportionate influence of hard-line Brexiteers whilst former cabinet big beasts send out coded conciliatory signals.

How long can this nonsense go on with all its deadlines and double-bluffs? I suspect that just like the Welsh beer advert of yesteryear, we could well be looking at an extension on the extension on the extension. Cheers.

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