Brexit hits the buffers as DUP prove the fly in the ointment

I'll be watching you...DUP leader Arlene Foster keeps a close eye on British Prime Minister Theresa May.
I'll be watching you...DUP leader Arlene Foster keeps a close eye on British Prime Minister Theresa May.

World of Politics with Harry McGee – harrymcgee@gmail.com

There’s no such thing as a free lunch, as Theresa May learned to her cost on Monday. With one phone call, DUP leader Arlene Foster essentially cut short the tête-à-tête between May and EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker before they even had time to savour the dessert.

And now it has been left to the rest of us to rummage through the leftovers to see how it all went wrong.

The narrative that unravelled messily was a textbook illustration of something that was too good to be true.

From mid-morning on Monday, the sounds coming from Brussels were really positive. Officials from the EU and Britain had agreed a text that would allow “regulatory alignment” between North and South.

The word coming out from the emergency Cabinet meeting in Dublin was that it was all very close to agreement and the deal would be sealed at the lunch in Brussels between Juncker and May.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar briefed Opposition leaders on the shape of what was agreed. He and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Tánaiste Simon Coveney organised a press conference for 2.30pm in Government Buildings. Everybody was primed to expect something major and momentous.

The hype was building up. RTÉ’s excellent Europe editor Tony Connelly was reporting the key phrase “regulatory alignment” between North and South well before lunch. If this were true, it was a significant coup for the Government after Donald Tusk and the whole of the EU Council had thrown their weight behind us.

But some of the text of the draft agreement began to leak out and it was clear it was running in our favour. “The UK remains committed to protecting North-South co-operation and a guarantee to avoiding a hard Border. The UK’s intention is to achieve these objectives through the overall EU-UK relationship.”

Problem was nobody told the DUP about the Theresa and Jean-Claude’s little arrangement. And as the details began to leak out, the reaction from Belfast was instantaneous.

“But in Westminster and in Dublin, nobody was in any doubt about the identity of the culprit – it was Arlene Foster, in Stormont, with the telephone,” was The Irish Times London Editor Denis Staunton’s summation.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.