THE late newspaper editor Áengus Fanning always used to say: “Be prepared to be the most unpopular person in the room.”
In what has been a valuable lesson about relationships with power, Fanning was wary of bullshit and spin and valued audacity in his reporters.
Anyone who watched BBC’s Question Time programme on Thursday night would have been buoyed up by one very striking and powerful intervention.
It came from Bonnie Greer, the US-born but UK-based novelist and playwright who chipped in with her view about Britain’s treatment of little old Ireland.
It was glorious. In just over a minute, to a largely stunned audience, she delivered a hammer blow of reality and realism to the grand delusion which has gripped British politics since 2016.
“Often I hear people talk about Ireland as if this country owns Ireland. Ireland owes this country nothing. Ireland owes this country no concessions, it owes it no quarter, it owes it nothing,” she said boldly.
“The Good Friday Agreement, despite its rather benign name, is a truce and it is a truce because the United States of America and the EU sat down with this country [Britain] to make it happen. We have to be much more serious about this. The third thing I want to say is that the United States is Irish. Anybody thinks they are going to get a deal through and have a trade relationship with the United States that shafts Ireland, well you got another thing coming. It’s not going to happen.
The Taoiseach was in Scandinavia for the past 48 hours to press his case for why the Boris Johnson proposals, delivered to the EU on Wednesday, are not sufficient.
In Sweden on Thursday, he said: “The proposals put forward by the UK are certainly welcome insofar as we have written proposals which we can engage on, but they do fall short in a number of aspects.
“Certainly our view is that were any consent mechanism to exist, it would have to be reflective of the whole of the population of Northern Ireland and not give any one party a veto. Also, we need to explore in much more detail the customs proposals as it is very much the Irish view that there shouldn’t be customs checkpoints or tariffs on goods between North and South,” he added.
Varadkar made it clear to two EU presidents on Thursday evening that major issues remain with the UK’s proposals aimed at avoiding a no-deal Brexit.
The Taoiseach spoke to European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and European Council president Donald Tusk following his meeting with the Swedish prime minister Stefan Lofven in Stockholm.
“In both calls, the Taoiseach said he welcomes the fact that the UK prime minister has put forward proposals as a basis for further discussion, but that major issues remain with the UK’s proposals, especially on customs, and with consent and democracy in the North,” a statement said.
The Taoiseach reassured both presidents of Ireland’s commitment to protecting the EU single market and customs union, as well as protecting the Good Friday agreement and avoiding a hard border.
“Time is short, and all pledged to stay in touch, both directly and through their teams,” an Irish Government statement said.
While opposition leaders in Dublin were scathing in their response to the Johnson proposals, Varadkar and the EU struck a far more conciliatory tone. They had to.
Had they rubbished them out of hand, they would merely play into the hands of the hard Brexiteer mob who seem intent on causing their country so much self harm, no matter what the cost.
Ask to spell out his main objections to the Johnson proposals, Varadkar said: “There are two major obstacles. Firstly the proposal on customs. I don’t fully understand how we could have the Republic and the North in separate customs unions and somehow avoid tariffs, customs checks, so we need to tease that through,” he said.
“Secondly, the issue of consent in democracy is important but any consent mechanism must reflect the views of a whole population. No one party, not my party, not Sinn Féin not the DUP should be in a position to veto the will of the majority, so there is a difficulty around that,” he said.
But in his most telling comments, the Taoiseach conceded that Ireland “may have to live” with a no deal scenario for a while and all that comes with that in terms of checks.
“If we end up in a no-deal scenario, we may have to live with no deal for a while and Ireland will do what is necessary to protect the single market. But having to do that for a period of time while negotiating a deal — that is very different to signing up to an international treaty,” he said.
In the short run, the solidarity from the rest of the EU toward Ireland appears to be holding. Swedish prime minister Stefan Lofven made this clear saying his country “stands in solidarity with Ireland”.
All eyes are now on this month’s make or break EU summit and whether a deal is possible or whether an extension is offered and granted.
Varadkar, as we reported on the front page on Thursday morning, told his parliamentary party that an extension to the Brexit deadline is still “alive”.
At the private meeting, the taoiseach stressed that the backstop, which is seen as a necessary insurance policy to prevent a hard border with Northern Ireland, is still “the best show in town”.
He said the Government is “not rubbishing” the proposals but there is still some way to go in the talks.
He admitted to TDs and senators that the idea of a Brexit extension beyond the October 31 deadline was “still alive” despite Boris Johnson’s complete dismissal of this idea.
Given how provocative his proposals were, it is clear that Johnson would quite happily crash out and then go to the country and seek his mandate. Under that scenario, he could say I have delivered Brexit, come what may.
The one plus side of this is that Johnson, if he succeeds in getting a Commons majority at that election will be able to dispense with the reckless DUP, which has been a cancer on this entire process.
Their continued desire to put their narrow ideological interests over the best interests of the people of the North has been scandalous.
But we are a long way from there. With just over three weeks to go, anything can still happen.