ON Thursday I was in the online audience for a speech by the Taoiseach on the theme of “Shared Island”.

This Irish Government initiative takes a pragmatic and respectful approach to dialogue between north and south and is developing joint projects to assist in building confidence.

The project is not without its critics but it is streets ahead of what exists on this neighbouring shared island. Here there is not much sign of any dialogue at all. There hasn’t been a European Joint Ministerial Committee for seven weeks and Boris Johnson has never held a single joint ministerial plenary.

Respect for the rights or views of the devolved nations is non-existent as the Internal Market Bill illustrates – and instead of joint projects, the Tory Secretary of State against Scotland is imposing the grubbiest of pork-barrel politics without consultation.

Furthermore, this week matters of huge importance, affecting every Scottish citizen, have been playing out in London and Brussels without the slightest meaningful consultation with Edinburgh in a process which, for the UK , is now all about avoiding embarrassment or worse for Johnson.

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There is no doubt that a deal – though much, much worse than what we have now – can be done if Johnson is prepared to compromise. The EU has made that clear for months and the break-down last week was because they finally got fed up with the constant UK briefings designed to bounce them or blame them , and the UK’s bullying attempt to renege on the Withdrawal Agreement, an international treaty agreed by Johnson himself.

Barnier is a professional negotiator so, working within his mandate, he is prepared to move a little further to get a result. Of course, Johnson has to move too, but if he does he will immediately incur the wrath of the Brexiteers who now control the Tory party at Westminster.

That monster was created by Johnson for his own ambitious ends – but now it could destroy him if he appears to weaken or U-turn. Indeed, many Tory MPs want him to go in the opposite direction and repudiate all existing commitments that, paradoxically, got them elected just last December.

Johnson’s political skin was saved then by the EU which cleverly repackaged the Northern Ireland backstop as something more palatable, which he then trumpeted as him “getting Brexit done”.

Last week, it looked as if the EU was balking at doing the same again, but so Brexit-weary are they that they may well go along for one last time with Johnson’s embarrassing pleas and pretend that he has shown himself to be too wily for them. If they do, expect much crowing from the Tories, playing to their internal audience.

If not, expect a No Deal.

However, in the cold light of January 1, the reality will be laid bare. If there is an agreement, the EU will hold Johnson to every comma in the text. They will keep an eagle eye on compliance and particularly the Northern Ireland protocol, fair trade and the rights of EU citizens.

Of course, a No Deal would be absolute chaos. It would also be no more than a very difficult and expensive hiatus because negotiations would have to start again at some stage.

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However, a low deal will be bad enough. As a third country, the UK will have to submit to inspections of some types of goods at or near borders including in Northern Ireland, with concomitant delays and increased bureaucracy. The UK Government already admits there will be long lorry queues and an increase in food prices and other costs.

It will be harder to provide cross-border services, there will be a loss of very effective shared law enforcement measures and access to programmes that help young people, universities, research and culture will disappear or be severely curtailed.

The UK is already putting in place new migration restrictions so labour shortages will get worse and it is reducing access to goods currently available through, for example, EU companies trading online. Seamless European travel will be harder and passport queues longer.

The economy will falter, the Brexit shock being exacerbated by the Covid depression, and all of us will be poorer.

Any deal now, given the UK’s actual – as opposed to claimed – negotiating position will be the poorest of outcomes short of no deal at all. It is an act of monumental self-harm for which we will all pay, though at least Scotland has a way out and a government intending to take it if the people agree.