Brexit overture at an end - Game moves on, but no end in sight

There were two significant political announcements yesterday and though it may seem slightly skewed to compare one with the other, or to suggest that the long-term success of each proposal is as important as the other, that is the case — especially as, in our increasingly connected world, one is unlikely to be realised without the support of the other.

European Council president, Donald Tusk, naturally, took centre stage when he announced that a political declaration on the new relationship between Britain and the European Union has been “agreed at negotiators’ level and agreed in principle at political level”. “I have just sent to EU27 a draft ‘Political Declaration on the Future Relationship’ between EU and UK,” he continued, bringing months of speculation and unhelpful “red lines, blood-red lines” posturing to an end. However, it is more than unlikely the nascent pact will be endorsed by the House of Commons. That expected rejection will perpetuate uncertainty, but how it might influence the 27 states that are happy — generally — to continue with the European project to appease British demands, sane or otherwise, remains to be seen. It is a relief, though, that the two-year overture to the main drama has ended and that agreed proposals can allow the next stage of the divorce process to open, even if yesterday’s announcement seemed to kick Ireland’s critical, hard-border dilemma down the road yet one more time.

The unfortunate prospect of a House of Commons cold shoulder remains closer to a reality than is comforting, despite prime minister, Theresa May’s Downing St assurance yesterday afternoon that “this is the right deal for the UK. It delivers on the vote of the referendum, it brings back control of our borders, our money and our laws, and it does so while protecting jobs, protecting our security, and protecting the integrity of the United Kingdom.”

Speaking on a more intimate stage in Dublin, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar declared that big companies must pay fair taxes. Mr Varadkar spoke at the Future Jobs Summit, where he pointed out that international tax laws are changing to try to restore credibility to national tax regimes unable or unwilling to gather what seems a socially equitable tax take from ever-more powerful transnational corporations. Ireland could not be caught on the wrong side of history with those tax changes, he told business leaders.

Though he insisted that our corporation tax rates could not be tweaked, his wrong-side-of-history warning could be interpreted as a tacit acknowledgment that we may not always have been reliable neighbours in the cat-and-mouse game of international tax solidarity. Maybe all of those accusations that Ireland is a sleazy tax haven have had an impact. If that is the case, then that change of heart is very welcome — especially if what is left of European social democracy is to resist the advances of the nativist populism polarising our world. Mr Tusk spoke of evolving grand relationships. Mr Varadkar focussed on what might be achieved by powerful grand relationships. It’s obvious that it’s far better to be in the tent looking out than standing, exposed, in the rain.

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