Tuesday 16 July 2019

Kevin Doyle: 'Barnier is a far cry from the EU bogeymen who used to visit us'


Simon Coveney and Michel Barnier REUTERS/Yves Herman
Simon Coveney and Michel Barnier REUTERS/Yves Herman
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Five times in the past two years, Michel Barnier has boarded a plane to Dublin. His latest visit on a damp Monday was probably the least noticeable, but arguably the most significant.

Irish people like to see the Frenchman coming. He is the opposite of the bogeymen that Europe sent over during the economic crash.

Rather than telling us hard truths, he soothes the nation by telling us everything is going to be OK.

"One thing is certain, whatever happens, the EU will stand fully behind Ireland - you have our full support," Mr Barnier said yesterday.

His comments echoed expressions of solidarity made last week by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron.

We are in the best of places and the worst of places. Ireland is the "best in class" when it comes to Brexit - but the last-minute panic might still cause us to fail the final exam.

With the countdown in overtime, Mr Barnier had two items on his Dublin agenda. Top of the list was how to stop Armageddon. Second was "what if?".

The first bit is actually the easier of the two. Bizarre as it might seem, we are still at the point where it would be easier to stop or delay Brexit than deal with the fall-out of disorderly Brexit.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar will be using the next 24 hours to try to convince other EU leaders to give British Prime Minister Theresa May more time.

Often portrayed by the British media as "the enemy" in the current debate, the Taoiseach is actually the UK's best ally. He is better positioned than Mrs May to secure an extension.

Irish Government sources confidently insist a Brexit extension will be granted. However, even if Brexit is postponed, that still doesn't mean the nightmare is over.

The odds of Mrs May and British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn reaching a cross-party deal seem low. And "what if" those talks break down?

Mr Barnier told reporters afterwards that Dublin and Brussels were intensifying discussions on how they could protect peace on the island while simultaneously maintaining the integrity of the EU's single market.

The claim that talks are "intensifying" is now an overused effort at filling airtime, without actually providing any information. If they get any more intense, there will be a risk of self-combustion.

"It is not an easy task, but I am confident, I am confident that we will find operational solutions," Mr Barnier said, without giving any indications of what those solutions might be.

He did hint at the direction of travel in a no-deal scenario. The EU will push the pressure straight back on to London.

Soothing words indeed. But it is still hard to move past "what if?".

Irish Independent

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