Tuesday 16 October 2018

May caught in the headlights with Dublin and DUP bearing down

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street in London, November 1, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville /File Photo
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street in London, November 1, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville /File Photo
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

For one day only, Ireland stands at the centre of Europe. A small nation shouldering great power, which brings with it great responsibility.

Today, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will make the biggest decision of his short political career - and it's hard to see there being many more as big, no matter how long he stays in the Dáil.

Last night, Government sources were quoting all the usual buzzwords: "Down to the wire", "50/50", "high-level contacts".

But in a break from the usual rhetoric, there was a change from the statement normally trotted out on these occasions, which argues that 'nothing is agreed until everything is agreed'.

This time the Irish Government is saying it doesn't need the full detail, it would settle for a few basic principles upon which further talks about trade could be anchored.

The British establishment seems to believe this is the most nefarious demand.

The cry across the Irish Sea questions why Mr Varadkar waited until now to speak up. How could Ireland, all of a sudden, be issuing such hard-line ultimatums?

It has come as a shock to Theresa May that we care this much. The divorce bill was supposed to be the tricky part, not some regional dispute about a piece of territory that the 'mainland' had long forgotten about.

In the past few days, the TV vans have been back on Merrion Square. The BBC, Sky News and ITV all parked across from Leinster House for the first time since those dark days when the IMF rolled in.

Every hour, they send back dispatches trying to explain how they are just 90 minutes away from Belfast but it's a different world. European flags fly side by side with Tricolours on all the main buildings and the punters seem to have a better understanding of Brexit than those who actually voted for it.

Shona Murray: Northern Ireland is already a 'special' case - in spite of Arlene Foster's wishes

Today they will report Leo Varadkar's every move, waiting and watching as if he was a Bond villain holding 'Lady Brexit' hostage. Nobody is expecting Boris Johnson to arrive on a zip line to rescue the damsel in distress.

Instead, Mrs May will have to pay a ransom, just like she did on the divorce bill and citizens' rights.

The embattled prime minister will have to put an offer on the table that ensures there will be no return to a Border between the Republic and Northern Ireland. Otherwise she will be holding her own citizens and those of this country hostage for decades to come.

And more worryingly, she will create a situation whereby some form of checkpoints will be erected along the Border, and immediately become targets for dissidents who had long lost their purpose.

The problem for Mrs May is her entire government is being held hostage by the DUP, which doesn't want any special arrangement for the North if it risks undermining the United Kingdom.

The prime minister is effectively standing on the Border being pulled in two different directions by the people who decide her fate.

It seems a fitting day to pull out an old quote from Margaret Thatcher: "Standing in the middle of the road is very dangerous. You get knocked down by the traffic from both sides."

Irish Independent

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