DUP spit in soup of well-choreographed meal

At breakfast, a deal was firmly on the Brexit table. But by lunch, the two-course meal had suddenly gone off.

Despite Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British prime minister Theresa May’s insistence that everyone can still break bread later this week once what is on offer gets reheated, the decision by the DUP to spit in the soup about to be served has led to claims yesterday was the day Brexit finally broke.

And while the disputed view has clear consequences for the now-stalled Brexit talks, it is of equal importance to the ongoing border question, the finances of those living on it, the future of the British government, the risk of a wider British break-up, and potentially even a slow step towards a united Ireland.

With a Brexit deadline just hours away, the sound of relieved sighs was evident across Leinster House yesterday morning as it emerged a breakthrough in lengthy talks had finally arrived which would allow the negotiations on Britain’s EU departure to move on to its next stage.

In a leaked five-page document, it was confirmed that a special deal for the North, allowing the province to remain in the customs union, was in place.

An agreement that there would be no “regulatory divergence” — later changed to a guarantee there would be “continued regulatory alignment” — was signed off on. And the protection of the common travel area appeared to be secured.

After 18 months of on-a-loop messages from Enda Kenny and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to EU leaders about the need to protect the border “from Derry to Dundalk”, that oh-so Brussels phrase for delight — “sufficient progress” — was within reach.

Only, suddenly and without warning, it wasn’t.

Shortly after European Council president Donald Tusk wrote on Twitter “tell me why I like Mondays!” and as Ms May sat down for a setpiece lunch with European Commission president Jean Claude Juncker to discuss the deal, her phone began to buzz.

Arlene Foster, the DUP leader whose 10 MPs hang like Damocles’ sword over Ms May’s government, wanted to talk. She had found a fly in her soup.

As Ms May’s welcome hot dinner suddenly cooled, the message “no deal” was given in no uncertain terms, forcing the beleaguered British prime minister — and the rest of Europe — to “pause” carefully choreographed plans.

And with that all hope of a deal just as the Brussels Brexit deadline — now downgraded to just a suggestion — ran out.

While the resulting hours caused both Mr Varadkar and Ms May’s governments into embarrassing planned statement cancellations, both insisted yesterday a deal can still be reached.

However, while Mr Varadkar even went as far to say Ireland will not budge on the plan, it remains unclear how the DUP concerns — presuming they are not choreographed themselves for Northern political reasons — can be resolved.

The situation has clear knock-on effects for not only Brexit, but other equally important Irish and British matters too.

With a deal described by Fianna Fáil last night as “the best of both worlds” now stalled, the only clear plan to date on avoiding a hard border that would be psychologically devastating for Ireland appears gone.

Worse still, the damage such a definitive red-tape wall would cause economies north and south seems unavoidable.

The future of Ms May’s punch-drunk British government is also in doubt, with DUP member Sammy Wilson openly warning the party could collapse the government to protect their interests, even if it means Labour’s republican-leaning leader Jeremy Corbyn — whose party stands at 45% in the polls — gains power.

And the risk of an even bigger British break-up cannot be ruled out, with Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon, London mayor Sadiq Khan, and Welsh first minister Carwyn Jones all saying if the DUP doesn’t want the deal they will happily snap it up — leaving onlookers to wonder if Brexit will ultimately just mean Coventry and maybe a bit of Surrey-xit.

This morning, Ms May’s lunch date with Mr Juncker is on hold for another day.

And if the menu then is not more to everyone’s liking then, the next breaking bread moment could cause far more long-term damage than just the sudden upset stomachs inflicted yesterday.

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