Lest we for­get: When Eu­rope stood to­gether

Irish Independent - - Front Page - Kevin Doyle

British Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May and France’s Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron set aside their Brexit dif­fer­ences to com­mem­o­rate the cen­te­nary of the end of World War I at Thiep­val Me­mo­rial in France. BREXIT: Whirl­wind week dumped us all back where we started:

MORE than three decades af­ter Ul­ster first be­gan to say ‘no’, the DUP is yet again chant­ing Ian Pais­ley’s slo­gan.

It was last De­cem­ber when Ar­lene Fos­ter first stormed into Down­ing Street to warn she could not coun­te­nance any­thing that would cre­ate an ef­fec­tive bor­der down the Ir­ish Sea.

Nearly 12 months on, UK Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May has in­di­cated that sce­nario is still on the ta­ble – and Fos­ter is again threat­en­ing to pull the sup­port of her 10 MPs who prop up the Con­ser­va­tive gov­ern­ment.

The sit­u­a­tion is as pre­dictable as it is in­tractable.

The DUP leader said yes­ter­day her party has “only one red line” which is that North­ern Ire­land can­not be dis­tanced from their “pre­cious union”.

At the same time, Taoiseach Leo Varad­kar said this week: “We haven’t had many red lines in th­ese ne­go­ti­a­tions, but one we have had is that we must have a le­gal guar­an­tee that a hard bor­der will not emerge on the is­land of Ire­land.”

As the clock ticks on to­wards a ‘no deal’ sce­nario, May ap­pears un­able to make those red lines meet. Fos­ter and Varad­kar can’t both get their way, which means the prime min­is­ter must de­cide who she needs more.

The DUP has kept her in power, but if she fails to do a deal with the EU, she will most likely be­come pow­er­less any­way in the face of an eco­nomic col­lapse.

“She has to do the maths around all of that to see whether she can pro­ceed with­out our sup­port in par­lia­ment,” Fos­ter said last night.

The num­bers don’t look good and the prime min­is­ter’s cause wasn’t helped by the res­ig­na­tion of Boris John­son’s brother Jo from cab­i­net yes­ter­day.

He voted ‘Re­main’ but now feels the two op­tions on the ta­ble – a UK-wide cus­toms ar­range­ment with a North­ern Ire­land back­stop, or no deal – rep­re­sent “a fail­ure of British state­craft on a scale un­seen since the Suez cri­sis”.

Varad­kar spent most of the week in Helsinki, where he en­joyed shar­ing a stage with Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel and EU Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Donal Tusk.

The fu­ture of the Eu­ro­pean Union was very much on the agenda at the Eu­ro­pean Peo­ple’s Party (EPP) con­fer­ence.

Much of the talk fo­cused on the threats to the EU from pop­ulism, with chief Brexit ne­go­tia­tor Michel Barnier warn­ing: “There is a now a Farage in ev­ery coun­try.”

Brexit was far from top of the agenda but it lurked omi­nously in the back­ground.

A high level of sol­i­dar­ity and sym­pa­thy is be­ing af­forded to Ire­land – but there’s no doubt EU lead­ers re­ally want a deal in the com­ing days. Pres­sure is com­ing down on the Ir­ish to show some flex­i­bil­ity to May if it helps her “land the plane safely”.

Varad­kar said he was will­ing to use “creative lan­guage” to pacify Brex­i­teers. For some rea­son, he was sur­prised when this sparked alarm in Dublin.

His open­ness to dis­cuss a “re­view mech­a­nism” un­der which the back­stop could be ended may have been mo­ti­vated by the de­sire to help May – but it came a day af­ter it was re­vealed UK Brexit sec­re­tary Do­minic Raab wanted any cus­toms ar­range­ment to last just three months.

Varad­kar quickly went back to his orig­i­nal script – the North­ern Ire­land back­stop must stay “un­less and un­til” a new trade deal which en­sures an open Bor­der is agreed.

Mean­while at the British-Ir­ish Coun­cil, Scot­land’s First Min­is­ter Nicola Stur­geon found her­self in a “heated de­bate” with Theresa May’s deputy over how the whole mess is play­ing out.

So af­ter an­other whirl­wind of ac­tiv­ity, ev­ery­one has re­treated back to their trenches, re­hash­ing the same old ar­gu­ments again.

EU lead­ers re­ally want a deal in com­ing days

State talks: Taoiseach Leo Varad­kar, First Min­is­ter of Scot­land Nicola Stur­geon and Chief Min­is­ter of Jersey John Le Fon­dre at the Bri­tishIr­ish Coun­cil’s sum­mit on the Isle of Man

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