Wordie Wednesday: omnishambles

Chiefly British Informal. A situation, especially in politics, in which poor judgment results in disorder or chaos with potentially disastrous consequences.

I’ve taken a bit of a break with my Wordie Wednesdays – the holidays were busy and focused on family time. Now, January’s half over, so I’d better get back at it, eh?

When I look at that word – omnishambles – I think of Theresa May, current prime minister in Britain. She’s in a bit of an omnishambles right now, with a vote on a Brexit deal failing miserably yesterday.

Disclaimer: I am not any kind of expert on British or European politics. I watch from the sidelines and follow the comings and goings mostly because Ireland is my second home, and all my in-laws live in the north of Ireland. So, I care about what happens economically and politically in Northern Ireland, in particular. But Northern Ireland is in its own version of omnishambles, its government having collapsed two years ago.

The poor judgment part of the omnishambles definition, in my humble opinion, is, first and foremost, the outcome of the Brexit referendum. In 2016, 52 per cent voted leave the European Union, compared to 48 per cent voting to stay, with pockets strongly in one camp or the other. Northern Ireland, who perhaps has the most to lose in the implementation of leaving, voted solidly to stay, but has now become the lynchpin in the deal. Also, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in Northern Ireland holds the balance of power for Theresa May’s government, having agreed to support the Conservative minority government in London in any non-confidence vote.

One of the biggest sticking points of Brexit negotiations has been over what happens at the Irish border. They have stumbled over the so-called “back stop” for Brexit border relations between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which is a solid long-standing member of the EU. The backstop is a last resort that maintains an open border on the island of Ireland if the UK leaves the EU without securing an all-encompassing deal. It is generally agreed that no one wants to return to a “hard border” – with checkpoints and infrastructure, different regulations and policies – but with the back stop in place, Northern Ireland could end up having a different relationship with the EU than the rest of Brexited Britain.

This week is do-or-die for Prime Minister May. There is, thanks to a solid no vote yesterday in Parliament, no Brexit deal at all, which will result directly in chaos with disastrous consequences. There may indeed be a non-confidence vote in May’s government, which also would result directly in disorder and chaos with disastrous consequences.

All of this is, of course, much more nuanced than I have indicated here. But no matter how deep you go into analyzing Brexit and its consequences, the reality is this week, the political situation in the UK is in omnishambles.

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