Leo Varadkar's polite fiction eases DUP plight

If any doubts were remaining that a protocol deal between the EU and the UK is close to completion, they have probably been dispelled by the latest intervention from Leo Varadkar.

The taoiseach, speaking to the BBC at the World Economic Forum at Davos in Switzerland, went out of his way to express sympathy for the present unionist position on the protocol, and said he understood the perception that it had weakened the union.

"I do have regrets and a regret that I have is that in the same way Brexit was imposed on Northern Ireland without the support of both communities, the protocol was imposed on Northern Ireland without the support of two communities," he said.

Since he returned to the taoiseach's office last month, Mr Varadkar, who was previously regarded as a hate figure by some loyalists over his role in the post-Brexit process, has very publicly attempted to take a much more conciliatory approach to unionism.

His Davos interview was among his most striking contributions to date, although it is clear from any reasonable assessment of the sequence of events since the 2016 EU referendum that his comments represented a particularly polite fiction.

He was plainly wrong to say that Brexit was imposed on Northern Ireland without the support of both communities, as, in a move which has come to be regarded as a strategic error of historic proportions, it was actually firmly endorsed by the DUP, although rejected by a decisive majority of voters here in a result which has massive wider implications.

Also contrary to Mr Varadkar's assertion, the protocol, which as all serious commentators have acknowledged, was an inevitable consequence of Brexit, retains the backing of most Stormont MLAs.

When it was first introduced, senior DUP figures were entirely relaxed about its provisions and spoke openly about the major economic benefits which were likely to follow.

They were subsequently spooked by familiar protests from fringe loyalists, and, in a spectacular u-turn, announced that fundamental constitutional issues had suddenly arisen and our power-sharing structures needed to be suspended.

As sensible voices like Maroš Šef?ovi? have stressed all along, a protocol needs to be in place but its details are open to revision.

Mr Varadkar’s honeyed words will be seen as a means to facilitating an outcome which satisfies all parties and allows the DUP to edge out of the corner into which it had backed itself.