Photographer: Dario Pignatelli/Bloomberg via Getty Images
This was one of those days when it was best to be off doing other stuff (in my case on housing and then in the City) before tuning in late afternoon to Brussels to see what it amounted to. Dipping in occasionally along the way into social media provided a glimpse of the political class shenanigans. Here was the classic Brussels fandango, filtered through Twitter. There was going to be a deal. And then there wasn’t. And now there isn’t, but there might be in a few days.
– Juncker and May declared that they had not been able to secure a deal to advance to stage two of the talks. Time is running out.
– But Juncker was complimentary to May, emphasising that she is a “tough negotiator” and there will be more talks this week to try to unblock the impasse in time for December 14th and 15th.
-A punch up over Ireland and the Northern Ireland border caused the failure to agree today.
-May offered a compromise on Northern Ireland, it seems. This was reported, seemingly in error, as being NI staying in the customs union and single market. The DUP is furious.
-No show without punch, Nicola Sturgeon and the other devolved leaders popped up to say they want the same thing as Northern Ireland has been offered, if it has. Honestly, and Brexiteers get called reckless, but this is deeply irresponsible from Sturgeon et al. Northern Ireland, it is clear, is especially distinct, as a result of war and violence and the Good Friday Peace Agreement. Of course it is different from Sadiq Khan wanting a border with Hampshire. Or Nicola Sturgeon wanting a single market border with England. Northern Ireland and Ireland requires compromise and fudge.
-Whatever May did offer as a form of words to Brussels and the Commission, it did not get past the DUP, which stresses Northern Ireland must leave on exactly the same terms as Britain.
-If this turns into the sticking point that scuppers a deal, then the DUP will be blocking compromise and creating the conditions for a harder Brexit than might have otherwise been the case. Oh, the irony. Depriving Theresa May of a majority in the election, to block hard Brexit, makes harder Brexit more likely.
-What seems most likely? A lot of British shouting about Ireland, a British past-time for many years. And then a fudge. But we’ll see.
Whatever the outcome, the overwhelming feeling I have watching it from a distance today is simply this: thank goodness we are leaving the EU. It will be much better for the EU, for a start, to be unencumbered by the UK. And the process of the talks – the EU’s ridiculous sequencing, the strict (almost Napoleonic) adherence to legal code, the inability of the EU to improvise a relaxed solution even on a constitutional fault-line over which thousands were murdered within living memory – demonstrates the incompatibility of the UK with the integrationist EU project.
The members of the EU are our friends and neighbours, and we wish to sell each other stuff and to cooperate as openly as possible, but after Brexit we will make all our own laws and not be part of the superstructure. Most other countries manage this. Really, it’s not weird. Ask Australia, or Canada, or India, or Chile, or the United States, or Japan, or New Zealand. It is quite normal. Bring it on, as they say.