Talks reopen but core differences remain

Over the last three years, Brexit has been a toxic, deeply divisive issue. Old scars have been picked.

Talks reopen but core differences remain

Over the last three years, Brexit has been a toxic, deeply divisive issue. Old scars have been picked. Faded, and, until June 2016, latent, differences have been re-energised. Hard-won progress on the relationships that cross and knit these islands together has been — needlessly — strained.

When, or if, they will be rebuilt remains an open question. Thirty years of work was, tragically, all but undone in three years. However, the mood music has changed, even if only slightly. As deadlines and the proximinity of chaos concentrated minds, some sort of progress in negotiations was essential.

That the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, has got the green light from the 27 member states to enter “intense negotiations” with the UK this weekend suggests that some progress has been made.

It may be, however, necessary to fly the flag of circumspection. One of the great difficulties in this process has been, in the first instance, Theresa May’s inability to win House of Commons support for anything she agreed with Brussels.

Now, Boris Johnson must do that in a parliament far more divided that the one led by Ms May. Divisions have hardened and a mania has been unloosed.

Despite that, or more accurately because of that, the resumption of talks is very welcome, but what they might deliver is uncertain — especially as core differences remain. Progress is welcome, but principle remains sacroscant.

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