Can it be for real? Arlene is looking happy

While Mary Lou and friends were dismissing Brexit secretary Dominic Raab’s visit “ like a thief in the night” as  a “box ticking exercise”, Arlene  was  treating us to a rare public smile.

 “Goodness, we have been here on a number of occasions and I think we are close to a deal that will work for Northern Ireland, that is what we want.”

Raab was guardedly optimistic again at Stormont. But the  louder mood music came out of the intergovernmental conference  in Dublin, headed by foreign minister Simon Coveney and Mrs May’s effective deputy David Lidington.

Mr Coveney and David Lidington, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, said a Brexit withdrawal agreement was “very close.”

The Tánaiste said he believes a Brexit deal can be concluded by mid-November, the provisional date for a special summit of the European Council to sign off a withdrawal agreement.

Mr Coveney said a lot of progress had been made in recent week, but added: “We are not quite there yet.”

He said some further movement was needed on the UK side to find a legal wording on the backstop that can be “sold on both sides of the Irish sea”

Sources said Mr Coveney and Mr Lidington will speak by phone over the weekend and there has been speculation in British political circles that Mrs May could present a final deal to her cabinet as soon as Tuesday.

However, Mr Lidington refused to be drawn on this.

He said the issue of the Border has been complicated by Mrs May’s position that the UK is leaving the European single market and customs union.

“I think we are very close to resolving it, I certainly hope we are,” the Tánaiste said.

Mr Lidington said there has been “movement on both sides” in the last few weeks.

“We certainly, as Simon says, (are) very close to resolving it.

Lidington, as a former and rather conscientious Conservative NI spokesman in opposition is that rare thing, an English minister who can name check Irish people and places like Castlederg.

The deal if it’s for real, is one strong step away from the formula reported yesterday.