If the beef talks epitomised one-step-forward-two-steps-back negotiations, then those focussed on a sane Brexit seem, sadly, more like one-step-forward-three-steps-back.
When DUP leader Arlene Foster visited Dublin on Wednesday, she raised hopes of a Northern Ireland-only solution. This welcome mellowing suggested, even briefly, that the light at the end of the tunnel had not gone out. Ms Foster said the DUP could accept arrangements specific to NI if they were endorsed by the North’s politicians and did not change NI’s constitutional position. That sounds grand, but it is far easier said than achieved.
Tánaiste Simon Coveney quickly countered, offering a “dose of reality”. He warned “there has been a lot of talk... about progress being made, flexibility being shown. Let me just introduce a dose of reality here: there is a significant gap between what the British government has been talking about in terms of their approach and what the EU is able to accept.”
The waters were further muddied when this month’s UK Brexit secretary Stephen Barclay demanded talks on guaranteeing a soft border be deferred until the end of the withdrawal transition period in 2020. The EU insists the backstop be part of the withdrawal agreement as an insurance policy ahead of and in case discussions are prolonged or do not produce a result that would guarantee a soft border in Ireland.
Is it any wonder trust has so dangerously broken down?