Comment: On sinking ground, Taoiseach urges Brexit sense

You know the perennially-in-crisis Brexit negotiations are getting that sinking feeling when even the city you are in is struggling to keep its head above water.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar meets the curators of the International Architecture Exhibition.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar meets the curators of the International Architecture Exhibition.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was in Venice yesterday with hopes the notoriously romantic Italian city could whisper some badly needed sweet nothings back into the EU and UK’s increasingly deaf ears.

The Unesco world heritage site which is dominated by gondolas and the inspiration behind Casanova’s Historie De Ma Vie and Vivaldi’s music has worked wonders on even the most doomed relationships for centuries.

However, like all great flings, some couples just aren’t meant to be, the EU and UK among them.

And with Brexit looming large, it was understandable yesterday that the nearby Bridge of Sighs — so named because it was convicts’ last sight before years of self- inflicted pain — and another Venetian classic, Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, rather than the beautiful surrounds, where what hung pointedly in the air.

With 11 weeks before the October withdrawal agreement deadline crucial to Brexit and months before the March 2019 cliffhanger ending, the UK’s departure plans remain in tatters.

And while Taoiseach Leo Varadkar tried his best to emphasise the positives on the latest stop in his four-day Brexit-focussed continental tour, there was no escaping the reality of the waters, and problems, lapping ever closer to the Venetian and Brexit shores.

With his best foot forward, Mr Varadkar sought yesterday morning to help all sides of the diplomatic divorce. British prime minister Theresa May’s decision to take control of the UK’s talks team, he said, could add some badly needed common sense and consistency back to the British side of the table.

He said the Government, will put Brexit first and does not want to become embroiled in an internal general election before the March 2019 date is reached.

And the EU, he added in best pre-divorce negotiations voice, still wants to find a solution including a still hypothetical potential extension of that March 2019 date — that can work for everyone. Honest.

The message the latter-day Merchant of Venice tried to negotiate — that, like most warring couples who come to the city, the EU and UK love each other really and just want a resolution. Sounds good on paper.

However, while there was a slight change in tone, the reality is that the same problems remain, with hardline Brexiteers refusing to allow the UK to pay a €43bn EU debt likely to recall the Merchant of Venice was ultimately about a slick negotiator plotting to ensure he gets his “pound of flesh”.

Despite the international love for the city and its history, Venice is slowly sinking. And unless some clear practical steps are taken soon, a soft Brexit is not going to stand much of a better chance.

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