Saturday 24 August 2019

Kevin Doyle: 'Let's be grateful that the sands have shifted in Egyptian desert'


All smiles: Leo Varadkar and Theresa May meet in Sharm El-Sheikh yesterday.
Picture: PA
All smiles: Leo Varadkar and Theresa May meet in Sharm El-Sheikh yesterday. Picture: PA
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

It seems the best we can hope for now is to spend months or even years more talking about Brexit.

Apparently that's the "rational" solution at this stage - just a month from the UK's scheduled exit from the European Union after 46 years.

But there's nothing rational about Brexiteers who are determined to get out at whatever cost.

If the economic statistics, ability to travel with ease and persistent peace haven't been enough to convince the hardcore Leavers, then the sensible view of EU Council President Donald Tusk certainly won't.

The Irish backstop remains the key sticking point but the EU's top brass fails to see how UK Prime Minister Theresa May can secure a majority backing for a reworked clause even if they gave her one.

They are not going to. Despite all our scepticism the EU is as heavily invested in the backstop as the Irish Government is.

Watching the key players dash around a massive congress centre in Sharm El-Sheikh over the past few days showed just how sensitive every word uttered on Brexit is.

After May and Tusk met on Sunday, UK officials briefed journalists that "progress" was being made.

By yesterday morning, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was heading into his meeting with the PM in an unusually buoyant mode.

Before even discussing the latest developments with her, he was able to tell Irish reporters of his confidence that the choice facing the UK is now firmly the deal or a delay. He could "sense" it.

Of course, the reality is that Varadkar will have known what actually went on between May and Tusk.

The EU chief told her an extension to Article 50 rather than horrendous self-inflicted wounds is the way forward.

Straight-talker Tusk used a closing press conference, which was supposed to be about EU-Arab relations rather than EU-UK matters, to "end speculation".

"We will face an alternative, chaotic Brexit, or an extension," he said.

Minutes later in a smaller room literally across the corridor, May arrived to give her own take on the situation.

Using classic Theresa May reasoning, she told us: "Any delay is a delay."

She believes the way out of the EU is "within our grasp" and pushing the deadline back from March 29 "isn't addressing the problem".

What she wouldn't admit to is that continuous stalling votes in Parliament and asking the EU for a time limit on the backstop isn't addressing the problem either. It's merely going around in circles.

At the very least an extension might allow the UK to figure out what Brexit means.

However, it also runs the risk of something business can't afford: allowing uncertainty to reign supreme for months.

The sands have shifted though in the past 48 hours and for that much we should probably be grateful.

Irish Independent

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