British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his Irish counterpart Leo Varadkar announced Thursday "a path to a possible agreement" on the issue of the Irish border.
The place remained secret until mid-morning, Thursday, October 10. Neither London nor Dublin, but a "neutral" place: the Thornton Mansion, a half-timbered house on the Wirral Peninsula in northwestern England, far from view. This is where Leo Varadkar and Boris Johnson finally met. A final lunch before a decisive summit in Brussels on 17 and 18 October, but a rendezvous especially symbolic.
Admittedly, the two prime ministers have said, at the end of the meeting, "See a path to a possible agreement" but at 20 days – theoretically – Brexit, October 31, and while discussions between the negotiators are stalled in Brussels, they have especially tried to forget the disastrous exchanges of recent days.
Earlier this week, anonymous sources in Downing Steet accused Dublin of blocking Brexit, and Leo Varadkar of not "Not want to agree". If this allegation seems unlikely, it highlights a factual situation that annoys the Brexiters to the highest degree. For little Ireland, this former English colony having gained its independence only a century ago, is in a position of strength, whether they like it or not.
A constant hard line
Even if a Brexit without agreement would affect it hard, the Republic holds indeed the keys of the divorce between the United Kingdom and the European Union (EU), the agreement depending on the solution to be found to avoid the return of a physical border with Northern Ireland (British province), condition of the maintenance of the peace agreements of the agreement of Good Friday, in 1998.
In Dublin, if the aggressive rhetoric of Johnson's entourage irritates and worries, the spirits remain surprisingly calm. They camp on the same hard line, adopted in 2016, and they have not changed since. It was that of Enda Kenny, the previous Prime Minister, that of Leo Varadkar for two years.
They refuse anything that, from near or far, would resell to reintroduce customs controls on the island, even away from the border – real but physically undetectable – with Northern Ireland. Mr Johnson's 'ultimate' solution, of keeping Northern Ireland in the fold of the European internal market, but of leaving the customs union for the province? No, meant Leo Varadkar abruptly, barely twenty-four hours after it was made public in London in early October – because it would not eliminate the risk of physical checks at 100%.