Kevin Doyle: ‘Nice welcome and words, but not a happy ending in sight’

Paris in one day: President Emmanuel Macron greets Taoiseach Leo Vardakar at the Élysée Palace. Photo: REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer
The local press say Emmanuel Macron is routinely late for engagements.

He once left an overseas visitor waiting 20 minutes at the bottom of the narrow street leading to the Élysée Palace – but not Leo Varadkar.

When the Taoiseach’s BMW turned through the huge gates to his residence, Mr Macron was already in position along with the Republican Guard, their swords aloft.

There was much to discuss: the latest events in Westminster, next week’s emergency EU summit and somewhat optimistically the future of Europe. But ultimately it all boiled down to time. Time to resolve the problems or time to deal with the consequences.

As the Taoiseach stepped out, Mr Macron welcomed him with a booming “Leo” in a French accent. Un accueil amical.

These get-togethers are usually well scripted in advance.

Leaders like Macron and Varadkar like to know the result of such bilateral talks before they enter the room.

Officials do the donkey work and then the chiefs tweak the final outcomes – an approach Theresa May should adopt with her cabinet meetings.

However, this one felt a little different. First of all the French side told local journalists they would not be briefing on the meeting. That would be left to the Irish.

Then Varadkar and Macron made joint statements before even getting to discuss the changeable weather looming overhead.

Macron wasn’t wasting any time before getting to the point: “The EU can’t be long-term held hostage to the resolution of a political crisis in the UK.”

He acknowledged Ireland and France are the countries most concerned by the prospect of a “no deal”.

And on that basis, the French President reassured his guest: “We’ll never abandon Ireland and the Irish people – because that solidarity is the very purpose of the European project.”

A nice welcome and nice words but there was no hiding the fact there is no happy ending to this situation.

Varadkar recalled how EU leaders had given the UK “some time, some space and opportunity to come up with a way forward”.

“There is still time…” Mr Varadkar said in hope.

And as the Taoiseach was whizzed back to the airport, Mrs May asked for just that.

But she didn’t offer any of the three reasons Macron said would justify an extension: a general election, a referendum or a customs union.

The clock ticks on.