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Brexit: Varadkar-Johnson meeting as low key as it gets

Inside Politics: Dublin and EU have played down any chances of breakthrough

It’s almost not churlish to suggest the meeting between Leo Varadkar and Boris Johnson today will only be the second-most reported event happening in Cheshire today after the ongoing spat between Coleen Rooney and Rebekah Vardy over leaks from an Instagram account.

It would be fair to say that prospects for a successful outcome of the leaders’ meeting are low. For two politicians not shy of media exposure, this is as low profile as it gets. They will meet in private for two hours. There will be no press conference. There will be no media access.

The thinking seems to be that if you get both into the same room for two hours, progress can be made, something that can be worked on ahead of the crucial European summit next week.

But that’s a little like saying that if the batteries run out in a torch, taking them out and putting them in again might somehow kick-start it back into life.

As Pat Leahy reports this morning the Irish Government has played down any chances of a breakthrough, and the same sounds have come from the EU.

It’s only in some sections of the British media that optimism is expressed that Boris’s allegedly legendary persuasive powers can somehow snatch a last-minute breakthrough.

The problems remain the same. What has been sold hard by the British government as a fair and honourable compromise is, in effect, throwing little more than a bone.

Johnson has reintroduced a customs border and given some concessions on a single market - but with a kicker the DUP can veto it. Perhaps the consent issue on the single market can be overcome, but the customs issue just looks beyond fixing.

I met a very senior figure in Government yesterday who said a deal was possible, a surprisingly buoyant assessment. But at this juncture, it does not look possible unless there is an embarrassing climb-down from the British or Irish Government over the backstop.

If the Irish Government was to cede, would the collective gasp of relief that a deal had been struck be able to overcome the reality a principle had been compromised? Unlikely to impossible. The Government would be hammered over it.

That view is copper-fastened by Patrick Smyth's report from Brussels that says a Stormont 'lock' is a non-runner.

Extension. Election. Referendum. They still look the likeliest features of the British political landscape after October 31st.

Budget underwhelms on carbon taxes

Paschal Donohoe’s budget was so undramatic it has barely succeeded in staying on the front pages for a second day, as the homeopathic-strength measures in each sector has had the expected close-to-zero impact.

As Mary Lou McDonald yesterday accused Leo Varadkar of being a “green poseur”, there was criticism of the seemingly insipid measures on carbon taxes. A €6-per-tonne hike on carbon taxes was less than dramatic and hardly one that will influence behaviour, as the increase in costs at the fuel pumps will hardly make a difference, given the huge fluctuations we get in fuel prices from month to month.

As part of his day-long round of media interviews yesterday, Donohoe did say the relatively modest increase was influenced by Brexit. He told reporters if he had put in a large hike, such as the €15 per tonne recommended by the Climate Advisory Committee, it could have led to a long queue of cars and vans crossing the Border each day after Brexit, especially if sterling devalues as every one expects it to.

Will Ireland reach its €80-per-tonne trajectory within a decade? It is possible, but like all these long range targets, politicians invariably choose postponing the pain until the last possible moment.

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Playbook

The main political event today is the meeting between the Taoiseach and the British prime minister at lunchtime.

The Dáil schedule is dominated by budget speeches.

There is one piece of legislation being debated in the Seanad: the Industrial Development (Amendment) Bill.

The Public Accounts Committee is examining the finances of the National Transport Authority.

The Housing Committee is conducting scrutiny of the draft legislation setting up the Land Development Agency.