At the end of a week the when Theresa May touched down in Dublin again, the Irish Times is deep gloom.
Noel Whelan’s pessimism is not placated by May including Dublin in a transcontinental shuttle that began in Washington, touched down in Ankara and Cardiff and ended up in Valetta. She can’t have meant business if she only had James Brokenshire with her, he snorted. It seems a bit ungracious to dismiss her visit, the second, in which she accorded Enda Kenny equal treatment with Donald Trump and EU leaders – and yes – the leaders of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland is the same swathe. But Noel has an answer even to that – she was bound to be jetlagged.
So the week was a mixed bag for her. Although she seems a bit less personally isolated, the EU partners are behaving like hurt people wanting an amicable divorce but anxious above all to protect their own interests.
On this occasion Pat Leahy takes seriously the words that fell out of Enda Kenny’s mouth in questions about the Dublin meeting between the two premiers.
“Deputy Adams asked me about having a situation where there is no land border between the Republic and Northern Ireland. I am not sure that we are going to achieve that.” he nature of these difficulties also became clearer this week.
So great are Enda’s anxieties that he even rammed the same message home in a further brief encounter with her in Valetta.
The Common Travel Area between Ireland and Britain and the Republic and Northern Ireland has been there since 1922. We do not see any change in that. It’s not just a travel arrangement, it’s also a residency and labour arrangement,” he said.
“And certainly we have committed to no return to a hard Border, and I really mean this. This is a really serious issue for us and for Britain. I did point out before that any semblance of a return to a hard Border would have very negative consequences and the British government fully understand that and the prime minister understands that. I made it crystal clear and plain that that’s a real issue.”
This can only mean that Enda believes that warm but vague assurances from Theresa are not enough – particularly in the light of evidence like this.
At Westminster on Wednesday the Northern Ireland committee heard from experts on customs and trade Michael Lux and Eric Picket.
Their view was there will have to be customs checks – proper, can you open the boot please, sir, customs checks – at least initially.
Lux, a retired lawyer who worked for the German ministry of finance, said Ireland would have no choice but to have customs checks on the Border.
The Guardian’s report of the proceedings noted that his evidence “drew audible gasps from MPs” as he told them that every vehicle carrying goods worth more than €300 crossing from the State into the North would have to be stopped and checked, even if only “for a few minutes.”
But that’s what you’d expect customs experts to say. It doesn’t take account of British hopes for a ” bespoke deal” that so far are greeted with general scepticism outside ther ranks of a minority of Conservartives. Little of substance has been added to the British position in the week that Parliament at last gave its consent to the triggering of Art 50 and a White Paper listing British aims. The authoritative Financial Times (£) passed on scathing verdicts from big business
But these are just snapshots of the moment before the negotiation starts. The weather will keep changing until we can finally call it the climate. The British may win freer trade from Europe than the pessimists expect. There are many pressures on EU 26 too. Mrs Merkel says the EU should go for free trade if Trump’s America goes protectionist. And the border may yet be “frictionless” whatever that may mean.