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Positive move from Arlene Foster does not diminish Brexit crisis

The DUP leader, Arlene Foster, deserves full credit for travelling to the Killarney economic conference in Co Kerry at the weekend and setting out her position on Brexit and related issues in calm and conciliatory terms.

Mrs Foster's observation that both parts of Ireland are bound by a range of close ties, regardless of the final Brexit negotiations, largely amounted to stating the obvious, but her measured tone still contrasted sharply with some of the more childish interventions from other DUP figures in recent weeks.

The taoiseach was not described as 'little Leo', there were no suggestions that the Dublin government should mind its own business over border discussions, and the spirit of the occasion was brisk and businesslike.

However, Mrs Foster, as a firm Brexit supporter, will also be well aware that the wider debate has gone very badly for her associates since the seismic shock caused by the referendum in June, 2016.

While the overall UK electorate narrowly opted to leave, voters in both Northern Ireland and Scotland threw the entire future of the union into doubt by decisively declaring their wish to stay in the EU.

It quickly became clear that that the British cabinet had no proper strategy for withdrawal in general and was completely lost over the major implications for the Irish border in particular.

Total confusion has since followed over London's attitude towards the customs union and the single market, with the lowest point coming when Brexit secretary David Davis had to admit that there had been a complete failure to carry out basic impact assessments covering Brexit's effect on the UK economy.

Since it also emerged that, rather than gaining a unparalleled financial windfall from withdrawal, as foreign minister Boris Johnston and others had insisted, Britain would actually have to pay a divorce bill estimated to be in the region of £40 billion, bitter disputes within the Brexit camp have steadily increased.

By the stage last week when the former UKIP leader Nigel Farage, the politician widely regarded as the architect of Brexit, said openly that he was warming to the idea of a second referendum, it was abundantly clear that the leave camp was in disarray.

It is possible that voters may yet be given the opportunity to offer their verdict on any final deal between the UK and the EU, but it is unlikely to resolve the massive contradictions which remain in place over the Irish border.

While Mrs Foster’s visit to Killarney represents at least a symbolic step in the right direction, addressing the crisis caused by the Brexit shambles and the continuing suspension of the devolved institutions at Stormont is going to require is going to require a massive effort from all our main parties.

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