Tuesday 17 September 2019

Nicola Anderson: 'Leo spoke of UK's Herculean task but faces his own in dealing with Boris'

Meek: Boris Johnson and Leo Varadkar hold a news conference on the steps of Government Building yesterday. Photo: Reuters
Meek: Boris Johnson and Leo Varadkar hold a news conference on the steps of Government Building yesterday. Photo: Reuters
Nicola Anderson

Nicola Anderson

In the air, Boris sketched a square-ish, jagged outline with his hands as he talked of the need to find a way to keep the UK from being "locked" into a backstop.

It was the island of Ireland, as a whole. A border down the Irish Sea - Boris's mythical Hy-Brasil. But it couldn't be put into words. At least, not those words and not yet.

Nobody was expecting much from this first meeting between the British prime minister and the Taoiseach. After all, if they had, they would have held the Q and A session after the meeting. This was window-dressing, pure and simple.

Leo Varadkar speaks to the media ahead of his meeting with Boris Johnson. Photo: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images
Leo Varadkar speaks to the media ahead of his meeting with Boris Johnson. Photo: Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

A chance for Boris to be able to go back home and say he was doing his best - but the intransigent Irish won't play ball. A chance for Leo to sound 'intransigent' enough for us.

The buck stopped here in Dublin, where the first of the autumn leaves were starting to tumble across the courtyard of Government Buildings - a reminder of the fluttering pages of the calendar as the Brexit deadline approaches.

Not that the British PM necessarily sees this as a problem. "The ideal amount of time to do it," he declared bullishly. Too much time, he might have added.

Leo Varadkar and Boris Johnson during the press conference. Photo: LORRAINE O'SULLIVAN/AFP/Getty Images
Leo Varadkar and Boris Johnson during the press conference. Photo: LORRAINE O'SULLIVAN/AFP/Getty Images

He arrived in his evergreen style of an intellectual tramp, shirt flapping at the back, hair raked into an uneasy haystack.

A copy of the Irish Independent fell out of his car onto the cobblestones. Someone, at least, was trying.

Side by side with the Taoiseach he looked almost meek and oddly shrunken, nodding so much in agreement with Leo at times that we almost wondered if he had a tremor.

At one stage, he wished us to feel that he was so supremely comfortable that he stretched out his arms as though he'd just come in from a long run.

'Nobody was expecting much from this first meeting between the British prime minister and the Taoiseach. After all, if they had, they would have held the Q and A session after the meeting. This was window-dressing, pure and simple'. Photo: Damien Eagers / INM
'Nobody was expecting much from this first meeting between the British prime minister and the Taoiseach. After all, if they had, they would have held the Q and A session after the meeting. This was window-dressing, pure and simple'. Photo: Damien Eagers / INM

We didn't believe him.

He grimaced and winced often - worst of all, when Leo spoke, in fluent Boris-ese, of Britain's "Herculean" task, generously expressing Ireland's wish to act as its "Athena". Boris would have learned at his father's knee the tale of the beautiful Greek goddess of wisdom who helpfully knocked out the demented Hercules just as he was about to kill his father and after he had killed his children.

Hoist with his own xiphos sword, Boris smiled a sickly little smile. It was probably the nastiest blow the Taoiseach could have inflicted.

Led upstairs to sign the visitor's book, by instinct the British prime minister grabbed a crisp newspaper lying on a desk - but it was neatly folded in half so he didn't learn much.

"Michel Barnier, huh, huh, huh," he noted with a pantomime drawl.

"Donald Trump," he added - mystifyingly enough, since the US president had not visited Government Buildings. Maybe he signed at Shannon.

Under the withering gaze of Michael Collins, his eyes turned away in disapproval from Boris, the two premiers sat.

There was time for just one more half-truth, as Boris wondered who was the first Taoiseach to use that office.

"Haughey," replied Leo.

"Haughey. I remember him. Thatcher loved him," said Boris fondly.

With a Herculean effort of his own, Leo said nothing.

Irish Independent

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