Wednesday 13 November 2019

Editorial: 'Time for hand of history to take Brexit by the throat'

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: PA
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: PA


Do you remember when Donald Tusk spoke about a "special place in hell"? The past few days have given us a close-up of exactly what that would look like, teetering interminably between unpleasant alternatives. How painfully we learned again why a day is a long time in politics.

Science fiction writers have long flabbergasted with worlds beyond our noses, but not even they could have come up with anything like Planet Brexit.

Progress seemed destined to be calibrated in backward steps. Yesterday began with a confident assurance from Leo Varadkar, who said: "Our objectives are simple ones, avoiding a hard Border between north and south, ensuring the all-island economy will continue to thrive and prosper, for north-south co-operation to resume, as envisaged in the Good Friday Agreement, and protect the integrity of the single market."

They do say 'believe, and you are half-way there': And it seems they may at last be right; even if someone forgot to include Arlene Foster in the memo.

The DUP leader dismissed reports of a breakthrough on the issues of consent and customs as "nonsense". Some accommodation appeared to have later been reached. A much-put-upon president of the European council, Mr Tusk announced the "foundations" of agreement were finally ready for approval by EU leaders.

Former Polish prime minister Mr Tusk went on to say: "Everything is going in the right direction, but you will have noticed yourselves that with Brexit, and above all with our British partners, anything is possible."

And so indeed it is. For have we not been here before? While everyone was given to expect today's summit would involve the drawing of a regulatory and customs border down the Irish Sea, we learned the DUP may yet have more misgivings on the tentative agreement. The curiously elliptical path of Brexit continues.

But UK Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay has accepted Boris Johnson will send a letter requesting a delay if he fails to pass the deal by Saturday.

EU officials suggested a deal might have to be delayed. But at least there was one in sight.

Inevitably, just like it was for Theresa May, it must all come down to whether there will be political backing for it.

Mr Johnson has the not-inconsiderable task of having to win over some of those he expelled from his own party to back him now.

So the burning question is still: are we there yet? The answer can only be "perhaps". For in the end, it will all come down to the ones and zeros.

Encouraging though it all looks, it is probably premature to believe we have heard the last of Spartans, Brexiteers, Remainers and Remoaners, but their days are certainly numbered.

An endgame still demands a reaching-out in Westminster. Brexiteers boxed themselves in by building walls, but there is now an overwhelming need for building bridges. The blueprint is there if there is the will. The hand of history must now take Brexit by the throat.

Irish Independent

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