THE first meetings between two people determined to divorce can be occasions where unrealistic expectations are aired but not conceded. A series of meetings is often needed to come to terms with what is possible and where the power in the transaction — for that is what a divorce is — lies.
We are well along in that process, and to hijack a phrase, we may be at the end of the beginning on Brexit negotiations.
EU negotiator Michel Barnier warned yesterday that UK demands are putting a transition deal in doubt and confirmed that Northern Ireland would in effect stay in the single market and customs union under a draft withdrawal deal.
This clarity will be like a red rag to the John Bulls driving Brexit but it does, like a good divorce lawyer, focus on what is possible, rather than aspirational. Speaking in Brussels after the latest talks, he said he could not understand the positions taken by Downing Street. “To be quite frank, if these disagreements persist, the transition is not a given,” he said.
Of course, the trick is to winnow the negotiating from the truth-telling but, as the potential meat in the sandwich, we have every reason to be vigilant and concerned.
Nevertheless, Mr Barnier warned that “the time has come to make choices... time is short, very short, and we haven’t a minute to lose if we want to succeed”.
Once again Brexit seems a runaway train without a driver and we must do all we can to stay out of its path.