Any cheer in London about Dublin’s woes will be short lived
A change of government is unlikely to bring a significant change of policy on Brexit
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar with British prime minister Theresa May at Downing Street last June. Photograph: Philip Toscano/WPA Pool/Getty Images
Leo Varadkar’s tough line on the Border after Brexit has made him unpopular in London so his political troubles will be met with schadenfreude by some in Westminster and Whitehall.
For Theresa May, however, what matters is the likely impact of the turmoil in Dublin and a possible general election on Britain’s negotiations with the EU.
As negotiators prepare for the final round of talks ahead of a summit in Brussels on December 14th-15th, the Border has emerged as the biggest remaining barrier to Britain’s ambition to move to the second phase of negotiations. Diplomats agree that political agreement must come in the week beginning December 4th, when May meets Jean-Claude Juncker for dinner in Brussels.
The Taoiseach insists that Britain must give more details about how it plans to avoid the return of a hard Border before negotiations can move on to the shape of a future trade deal. Britain says that the solution to the Border issue can only be found once the shape of Britain’s future trading relationship becomes clear.
Both sides have toughened up their rhetoric in recent days, with Mr Varadkar and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney reaffirming their tough line in public statements while British ministers brief against Ireland to the media.
The question for Britain is whether the political turmoil in Dublin is likely to make the Taoiseach soften his position on Brexit over the next two weeks. If it does not, will the prospect of a snap election distract Dublin to the point where a compromise with Britain ahead of the summit becomes more difficult?
With Fianna Fáil broadly supportive of Mr Varadkar’s approach on the Border, a change of government is unlikely to bring a significant change of policy on Brexit. So British officials are in the same position today as they were yesterday, as they seek to formulate a commitment to avoiding a hard Border which offers more than warm words to Dublin without triggering a mutiny among Brexiteers in the Conservative Party and the DUP.