JUST as everyone had written off the chances of a Brexit deal, an unexpectedly positive meeting between Boris Johnson and Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar has sent us all into a spin.
There is a ‘pathway to an agreement in the coming weeks’, according to Mr Varadkar — and it can be done by the Brexit deadline at the end of October.
There is, however, a big health warning.
We don’t yet know the details of the talks (after a succession of damaging leaks, both sides are keeping their lips sealed) so it’s impossible to know if this is genuine white smoke or yet more cloud and obfuscation.
On customs in particular, both sides have been so stubbornly apart it is hard to see how an agreement can be bridged in time.
It’s also almost impossible to see how the necessary legislation could get through parliament in time to meet the deadline — so some form of extension is still likely, even if everything miraculously goes to plan.
If the EU agrees to a deal — which is still a massive if — the agreement needs to pass through the House of Commons and the House of Lords.
That will be a tall ask. If Ireland is happy, the DUP will be suspicious — and if there has been a major compromise on customs Mr Johnson may not be able to rely on their votes.
On top of that, the prime minister needs a sizeable chunk of Labour MPs to support his deal in order for it to pass. I spoke to Lisa Nandy, Labour MP for Wigan, on Sophy Ridge on Sunday last weekend and she said she thought a Brexit deal was further away than under Theresa May.
This, she said, was because MPs on her side of the House who want to agree a deal are concerned over matters such as protections for workers’ rights in Mr Johnson’s plan.
And to throw a final spanner in the works: the warm words and smiles in the Wirral this week could just be bluff and bluster as both sides aim to show they are trying their best to reach an agreement. We simply don’t know.
The next seven days will be crucial. For an agreement to be reached everything must go right. It only takes one slip for the whole stack of cards to fall down.
Leave off, she’s having a baby…
THERE has been a flurry of headlines this week about the blow to Boris Johnson over the news that one of his key advisers, Nikki da Costa, is leaving Downing Street.
The departure ‘in a few days’ of Ms da Costa, an expert in parliamentary matters, certainly seems like big news.
There’s only one problem. She’s not quitting — but going on maternity leave.
I accept that this could have an impact on No.10, but framing baby leave in this way is deeply unhelpful to women.
It can feel like there’s never a good time to have a baby, and many (most?) women will feel deeply worried about the effect it will have on their careers.
I look forward to a time when working women (even highly successful ones like Ms da Costa) can take maternity leave without rumblings or tut-tutting about what it means for their jobs.
A ban on smelly food? It’d be a piece of cake
DAME SALLY DAVIES has done some great things as chief medical officer — but her call to ban food on public transport is not one of them. A trip to the buffet car makes a long train journey that bit more enjoyable. And can you imagine taking a toddler on a journey of anything more than a few minutes without emergency rice cakes? The obesity crisis should be tackled, but surely there’s a way to do it that we can all rally around… banning smelly food in public, perhaps?
Guys, guys… ‘traitor’ is inflammatory whoever says it
THERE has been a lot of valid and deeply felt criticism of inflammatory and aggressive language in politics, at a time when many MPs are fearful of their safety. This week Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator, claimed Boris Johnson was the ‘real traitor’. This language should be condemned whoever says it — and not only when it’s people you disagree with.