Sunday 22 September 2019

Kevin Doyle: 'Varadkar got his deal - but it might be too good to be true'


Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Photo: Frank McGrath
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar Photo: Frank McGrath
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

It's fast becoming a victory too sweet to taste. As ministers skim-read the Irish protocol section of the Brexit deal on Wednesday, they felt like children whose Santa list had passed through their parents without any editing.

From day one, the Irish ask in these tortuous negotiations was big. If nothing else, it seemed unlikely that the EU27 would stand in such solidarity with their farthest and often difficult outpost.

The ultimate objective was to maintain an open Border and the retention of the common travel area. We got that and a bit more, including confirmation that the UK would continue to facilitate the transit of goods moving to and from Ireland on the so-called 'landbridge' to Europe.

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At a press conference on Wednesday night, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said: "No international negotiation gives one side everything it wants."

But there's no doubt that behind the scenes, ministers were toasting a great win. The Government knows Irish people love to beat the Brits, whether it's in sport, song contests or, nowadays, politics.

However, such is the nature of the Brexit complexities that within 24 hours, our ministers have all flipped sides. They are now supporting British Prime Minister Theresa May with the type of vigour usually reserved for an underdog on All-Ireland day.

And by yesterday we were back to talking about the strong likelihood of a no-deal scenario - in which case, two years of negotiations will have been for nothing.

Mr Varadkar knows that any 'Brexit bounce' he might get in the polls can only be sustained if Mrs May can get the deal through the UK parliament.

It's a strange situation. When Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin offered Fine Gael a 'truce' to ensure that there is no general election here until after the deal is passed by the UK and EU, the idea was roundly shot down by the Taoiseach.

Mr Varadkar argued he couldn't allow the timing of an Irish election be determined by events in the House of Commons.

"I think that goes against our basic sovereignty," he said.

However, the Taoiseach's standing ahead of that inevitable election may well be decided by whether Mrs May survives. He knows it.

Ireland is now doing everything it can to help the prime minister cling to power.

Mr Varadkar has praised her "integrity" and promised this country would be her ally if the Brexit talks move on to the next stage dealing with future relationships.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney talked about her being "tough, resilient and persuasive".

And Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty was practically 'fangirling' her on the radio yesterday. "The resilience. The courage. The stamina. She's some woman for one woman," she gushed.

Mrs May is the only person who can save the Brexit deal now. If it gets torpedoed, Mr Varadkar will be left counting some massive collateral damage after momentarily letting us think it would all be OK.

Irish Independent

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