Wednesday 13 November 2019

Talks may be 'fruitful', but sour taste remains

EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier. Photo: AFP/Getty Images


EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier had to thumb through his silver lining's playbook several times to come up with something positive to say about the latest round of talks with Britain about its departure from the union.

On the subject of Ireland, discussions were "fruitful". We will have to wait until another day to ascertain what that fruit was, but from the overall tone of these talks one suspects that it might well be a sour grape.

For Mr Barnier scarcely sought to hide his frustration. The third round of talks have yielded "no" decisive progress.

He went on to chastise London for "demanding the impossible" and seeking to have input into how the single market will be regulated while remaining outside of it.

We have yet to become even a shadow of shadow boxing. Once again, there is deadlock on the EU demand that the European Court of Justice must be allowed to police the enforcement of rights of EU citizens residing in Britain after Brexit, and vice versa.

One also senses that the British government is loath to move on any point of significance in fear of a backlash at the upcoming Tory conference in October.

Mr Barnier has even come to a point where he is questioning the commitment of Britain to the talks. His confidence will not have been boosted by Theresa May's repeated insistence that no deal is better than a bad deal. He is also dubious about commitments post-Brexit to Britain's financial obligations.

Getting back to the 'good news' however, it would appear that in the context of Ireland Mr Barnier said that progress was made on the "status of Border workers".

So will that be a hard or a soft Border? Even this bit of positivity was doused with icy water when Britain's Brexit Minister David Davis immediately chimed in: "We did not get any decisive progress on any of the principle subjects, even though on the discussion we had about Ireland - that discussion was fruitful." Although this may be the country most directly caught in the crossfire on Brexit, we are not even one of the "principle subjects". Some progress.

Better planning needed to stop reliance on cars

The people who get up early in the morning, those whom our Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, is rightly concerned about, are spending longer in their cars, and driving further.

The CSO's Census 2016 'Commuting in Ireland' research shows that commuters in counties bordering Dublin had the longest average commuting time.

Almost 200,000 commuters - or one in 10 - spent an hour or more commuting to work in April 2016, an increase of almost 50,000 (31pc) on 2011.

The statistics mask a story of over-dependence on the car and a failure to decentralise.

No one wakes up in the morning looking forward to spending more time in their car. Congested roads and urban sprawl are a consequence of over-development.

Almost imperceptibly along the east coast towns are swallowed up, becoming small cities with populations that empty into the capital to work.

This is bad not just for the environment but for the health of workers. Delays in rolling out broadband, lack of housing and poor national public transport in some areas are all adding to the problems.

These statistics show that Mr Varadkar's concerns for the people who get up early are well founded. Step one is identifying the problem, step two is dealing with it.

Irish Independent

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