Thursday 17 October 2019

Editorial: 'No progress, no discussion and still no clue to future'

Each time we come close to an understanding, the British change the question

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar


Podiums had been polished and sound-checks completed, but once again the preparations for a planned read-out on progress on Brexit had to be cancelled in Brussels. No progress, no discussion.

Earlier, in Dublin, Leo Varadkar's emollience was being sorely tested. "The position as of today is that we have no texts or draft texts to consider or get legal advice on," he revealed.

So 16 working days before the most transformational moment in recent history, we are none the wiser. Each time we come anywhere close to an understanding on the Brexit question, the British change the question.

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The Withdrawal Agreement held the bones of a deal but the marrow was sucked from them when Theresa May realised she could not sell it.

As often as the EU rules out imposing a time limit on the backstop, the DUP insists on one.

Hopes of a breakthrough now pivot on an arbitration mechanism, but the DUP's Sammy Wilson feels his party could not support this.

He was also dismissive of the stark no-deal dystopian economic vision set out by the North's most senior civil servant, David Sterling, who circulated a letter warning of the grave impact a UK crash-out would have on the North.

"The consequences of material business failure as a result of a 'no-deal' exit, combined with changes to everyday life and potential Border frictions could well have a profound and long-lasting impact on society," Mr Sterling wrote.

When the letter was raised by Lady Sylvia Hermon, Mr Wilson accused Mr Sterling of having a political motive. He brushed the letter off as "a scare tactic".

And when Lady Hermon dared to disagree, he snapped: "I don't care if he's head of civil service or Santa Claus, it really doesn't matter - the fact of the matter is, he's got it wrong."

Really? Jobs, lives and livelihoods are in the balance and those who recognise the dangers are compared to figures of fantasy, while those who refuse to leave fantasy behind them, making impossible demands, hold sway.

The refusal to engage with the enormity of what is at stake gets more alarming as the days slip by.

Brussels and Dublin have been as elastic as security and economic prerogatives will allow.

Yet once more the EU's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has had to inform the weekly meeting of the College of Commissioners a way forward has not been found.

History shows one often only discovers one's limits having gone too far, at which point the damage is done. If there is nothing on the table today to buy into in Westminster, perhaps it is worth remembering the darkness we all had hoped to have left behind us.

As Cormac McCarthy put it: "Scars have the strange power to remind us that our past is real." Our present is just as real - if only those who still expect to have their Brexit cake, and eat it, would only wake up to the fact.

Irish Independent

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