Brexit: Something has changed – but there are miles to go before a deal

Boris Johnson and Leo Varadkar

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“No one’s cracking open the champagne… don’t even pour a pint of warm Guinness,” joked one of the few people familiar with what actually happened on Thursday after talks between Boris Johnson and Leo Varadkar.

Nothing that happened in the privacy of a country house wedding venue on the Wirral means there will be a deal with the EU in the next seven days.

Nothing has made the obstacles in the way of reaching an agreement magically disappear.

But something has changed today.

After days of various EU players publicly scorning the UK’s proposals, explaining the objections and lamenting the weaknesses, there is a tangible willingness, on the bloc’s side at least, to see seriously if they can work.

We’ve discussed here so many times why Ireland’s attitude matters so much, so the very public positivity from Mr Varadkar – his “maybe”, instead of “no” to Mr Johnson’s proposals – is extremely important.

There is hardly any detail out there of the compromises or concessions that might be actually in play to make a deal work.

Don’t give too much credence to even the best informed speculation that’s already whirring online as to how it could happen.

What Mr Varadkar’s warm words represent though, perhaps, is an appetite on the EU side to focus on what might be possible, rather concentrate on the gaps.

It would be an epic assumption tonight to conclude that a deal will happen.

More heroic still to conclude that even if Ireland and the UK have found common cause, that their new understanding would automatically pass muster among all the other political players – the powerful EU member states, not to mention the DUP and the other parties in Parliament.

As Theresa May found to her cost, any compromises with the EU often cost her votes back at home.

All of the policy and political complexities are also up against the intense demands of the clock.

There is progress, but it is tentative.

The process has moved forward a few paces, but there are miles to go.

Remember too with so much at stake, neither side want to be the ones to admit defeat first.

But against what was felt even on Thursday morning – almost a lost cause – these talks have produced a slight lift in the gloom.

Both sides will have to move if there’s to be a deal, but at least for now, it seems they are willing to try.

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