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View from Dublin: Politics of 'the deal' don't wash in reality

Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s President Emmanuel Macron
Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s President Emmanuel Macron

By Richard Curran

The politics of 'the deal' are everywhere right now. Donald Trump is pursuing foreign policy interests by treating everything as a deal.

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He bluffs; postures to go so far with the likes of China on trade or Mexico and Canada on the North American Free Trade Agreement. When he feels he has got something, however small, he backs down and does a deal, saying he won.

It is an approach borrowed from the corporate world and is built on the false premise that every deal is about winning. It isn't true in business or in politics.

Boris Johnson is doing something similar with Brexit. He may not be bluffing about whether he is prepared to take the UK out of the EU without a deal. Either way, he sees Brexit in terms of winning.

Speaking after German Chancellor Angela Merkel put the bluff right back in his own court, Johnson said he welcomed the 30-day "blistering" deadline she had set him to come up with an alternative to the backstop.

He went on to say: "What in my experience happens is that people find a way through and I think that if we approach this with sufficient patience and optimism, as I say, we can get this done, and it is in the final furlong generally when the horses change places and the winning deal appears."

There are no winners in this sorry Tory mess. The reality behind Merkel's 30-day deadline is quite different. The backstop was due to come into effect after a UK transition period, following its withdrawal from the EU. The UK's future relationship with the EU would be hammered out during that transition and if the outcome meant a trade border would still be required on the island of Ireland, the backstop would kick in.

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Merkel is saying to Johnson that he must come up with a solution and he should do it in 30 days, instead of two years.

It would be a very long stretch for the EU to go from describing previous British border proposals as "magical thinking" to suddenly accepting the same reheats.

The future negotiations around avoiding the backstop were all about the UK's future trading relationship with the EU.

One way to avoid the backstop would be to opt for a softer Brexit - remain in the customs union or the single market. Johnson has ruled this out.

It seems Merkel and French president Emmanuel Macron are putting Johnson's own bluff back on him by shifting blame for a no-deal Brexit away from Paris, Berlin and Brussels, and back to London.

Meanwhile, talks continue between the Irish Government and Brussels about what level of infrastructure, checks and controls the EU might be willing to accept as a minimum requirement to ensure an open border in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

How can Dublin satisfy the EU it can maintain the integrity of the single market with a minimum presence along the border? It won't be easy.

Systems around customs checks at factories and ports etc are all well and good, especially for larger businesses. But the system has to be checked to make sure it is working. Similarly, a light-touch approach to border checks will simply bring back smuggling in a massive way.

At some point, there have to be physical checks along the border - even if they are only random and sporadic.

Johnson cuts a desperate figure clutching at straws by seizing on Merkel's comments about finding a solution within 30 days.

■ It is hard to find fault with the first-half performance of building materials giant CRH, which delivered record results during the week. Earnings were up a staggering 36% to €1.5bn.

The group's strategy of disposing of businesses and becoming more streamlined has helped with trading performance and margin. It even managed to cull its interest and tax bill during the half.

The American road-building programme continues. CRH has hiked up cement prices in many of its European markets. In fact, Ireland and Poland saw volume and price increases above 5%.

CRH chief executive, Albert Manifold, summed it up to Reuters when he said the group had become a "cash machine", having generated €11bn of free cashflow in the past five years.

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