Another Brexit deadlock: Talks at point where a toxic legacy looms

There is hardly an issue on which opponents are so immoveably, so viscerally in conflict as Brexit.

Another Brexit deadlock: Talks at point where a toxic legacy looms

There is hardly an issue on which opponents are so immoveably, so viscerally in conflict as Brexit.

This, unsurprisingly, generates contrasting narratives and occasionally high, unhelpful emotion.

As agreed timetables approach decisive moments, even if they are addressing the same issues but from different perspectives, opponents sing from very different hymn sheets.

The DUP’s Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson, hardly the most complete diplomat ever produced by Northern Ireland, has warned it is almost inevitable the UK would end up with no deal.

“Given the way in which the EU has behaved and the corner they’ve put Theresa May into there’s no deal which I can see at present... So it is probably inevitable that we will end up with a no-deal scenario.”

Mr Wilson, as so many of those who share his views do, argue that Britain is being punished “by Brussels for leaving the club”.

From the alternative perspective — the EU’s and Ireland’s — Ms May has not been painted into a corner but rather she and her party have run, not for the first time, into the sobering reality that there is, nor can there be, an a la carte membership of the EU.

Despite well-flagged difficulties, talks have stalled over the border quandary. A deal is, apparently, delayed by renewed differences on the backstop agreed last year.

Bemused if frustrated EU diplomats point out that Ms May had repeatedly committed to a “specific” solution that would ensure that a hard border could never be reimposed.

Just as she did when her Chequers blueprint was predictably rejected by the EU, she and her negotiators feigned faux surprise if to do nothing more than throw red-white-and-blue meat to the right-wing of her party.

The EU response to this latest injured innocence was predictable: “If this is somehow a surprise, people have either not been focusing or they have been negotiating in bad faith,” one diplomat said.

It might be sceptical to suggest Ms May’s surprises are like Machiavelli’s town in The Art of War that threw its last loaves to a besieging army to try to convince it they enough food to endure and that the siege was pointless.

However, repeated, implausible British responses to EU reality checks show we are still at the phony war stage and that Brexit bread is not as abundant as was imagined by those who believe themselves besieged by the Brussels antichrist.

Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney said the backstop cannot be time-limited (European Commission Audiovisual Services)
Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney said the backstop cannot be time-limited (European Commission Audiovisual Services)

This was recognised yesterday by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Foreign Minister Simon Coveney when they predicted a deal would not be reached at tomorrow’s summit.

Though “frustrated”, they wisely played the long game.

Whether Ms May’s Commons statement yesterday moves that game along remains to be seen.

Whether it placates the Tory zealots enough to sustain her premiership is another open question.

What is not in doubt, however, is that we have reached the stage in the talks where more than the immediate issues are in play.

Like any one-sided, unsought divorce action the hostilities it can provoke might leave a legacy far more toxic than the material terms of that divorce.

Let’s hope too many bridges are not burnt.

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