Wednesday 16 October 2019

Kevin Doyle: 'How a tumultuous week of Brexit drama ends in tunnel vision'

Traders believe a Brexit delay or a deal is on its way (Leo Varadkar/PA)
Traders believe a Brexit delay or a deal is on its way (Leo Varadkar/PA)
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Brexit has been in a dark place for a long time so perhaps it's fitting that bursts of colour we saw this week have brought us to a tunnel.

Let's reflect on some of the key moments that have played out over the past seven days.

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The week started with news of Boris Johnson's alleged affair with entrepreneur Jennifer Arcuri. They bonded over their "mutual love of classic literature" and she saved him in her phone as 'Alex the Great'.

She revealed on television that during his time as Mayor of London, Johnson would pop over to her home for daytime chats. The living room had a stripper pole - but it was only used for exercise, and Arcuri insisted she never treated the Tory leader to a demonstration.

What has this got to do with Brexit? Absolutely nothing. It filled a lot of airtime and was an entertaining distraction from the political shambles that was in full flow.

But Tuesday we moved into full Budget 2020 mode. The Irish Independent had revealed most of the big details in advance, so Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe admitted on his way to work there would be "no surprises".

That didn't stop him speaking for an hour and 16 minutes, mentioning Brexit 38 times in the process.

"This is a Budget that has been developed in the shadow of Brexit. And the context for Brexit has now shifted to no deal as our central assumption," he said, while announcing a €1.2bn emergency package.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar shakes hands with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Photo: Getty Images
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar shakes hands with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Photo: Getty Images

But even as Donohoe was spelling out what a no-deal Brexit really means for every home in this country, he was drowned out by Downing Street's version of 'fire and fury'.

Angela Merkel, it was suggested, had gone off the rails during a phone call with Johnson. She was getting blamed for putting forward an argument that made a deal "essentially impossible" now or ever in the future. The briefings were vicious, and the leave.EU campaign even published a poster saying: "We didn't win two world wars to get pushed around by a Kraut."

A more objective analysis of Merkel's attitude would indicate that she just stuck to the well-worn line that any alternatives to the Irish backstop must achieve the same objectives, including no hard Border on this island.

The attacks on Merkel seemed to signal 'the beginning of the end'.

European Council president Donald Tusk took to social media to fire back at Johnson, saying: "What's at stake is not winning some stupid blame game. At stake is the future of Europe and the UK as well as the security and interests of our people. You don't want a deal, you don't want an extension, you don't want to revoke, quo vadis?"

Once diplomacy gives way to tweets, you know things are bad.

And goading the prime minister through Latin appeared to be the final insult.

On Wednesday even the politicians in Leinster House were exhausted by Brexit and had begun to focus on the far more exciting war between footballers' wives Coleen Rooney and Rebekah Vardy.

But even that was taking place in the 'shadow of Brexit' and by Thursday morning, Leo Varadkar was on his way to Cheshire to steal back the limelight.

He met Johnson at a fancy hotel in the middle of nowhere that once hosted Rooney's 21st birthday bash. Even authors who work in the worlds of dragons and flying pigs couldn't have made it up.

Guests at that birthday party included Girls' Aloud and the Beckhams - but the two political leaders went for a weird walk/photoshoot in the woods.

The entire objective of the Irish side seemed to be avoiding blame for the inevitable collapse of the Brexit talks.

However, Johnson had other ideas and performed CPR on a continental level. Varadkar took a major gamble by accepting that at face value.

If a Brexit deal is achieved it will be linked back to Team Rooney's hotel. If failure happens, then the consequences will be very politically difficult for the Taoiseach.

Irish Independent

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