THORNTON Manor in Cheshire “exudes historic enchantment and charm”, we’re told. The 19th-century Elizabethan-style pile normally plays host to some of the more expensive weddings in the north-west of England – but last week, laid on a spread for Leo Varadkar and Boris Johnson, who were hoping to salvage what remains of their fragile relationship.

Most expected funeral bells rather than bridal marches to soundtrack their meeting. The couple seemed to have no vows to renew. For weeks, the UK Government has been furiously spinning that progress was being made on an accord to replace Theresa May’s thrice doomed withdrawal agreement. For weeks, European sources contested this, confirming that all Boris Johnson’s administration has been able to come up with is a series of empty briefcases, full of non-starter non-ideas in non-papers.

“Exuding historic enchantment and charm” is a decent summary of Boris Johnson’s whole political schtick. But as much as it appeals to a certain English constituency, it has critical limitations. Ooze as much as you like. When it comes to detail and negotiating with a rule-based political order like the EU, a twinkle in either eye and a line in weak jokes butters no parsnips. These Europeans tend to look at the small print. The rotters.

The Tories’ “Beano and Dandy” proposals went down like a cup of cold sick on the island of Ireland. Mobilising all the influence of a sovereign state working within the EU – all the influence, let’s not forget, which Scotland conspicuously lacks as part of the UK – the Irish Tánaiste Simon Coveney wasn’t brooking BoJo’s nonsense.

Unable to explain how “technology” might fix up the apparently intractable issue of customs checks and tariffs, unable to convince anyone of the merits of an all-Ireland market in cows – the PM resorted to the old reliable strategy of bluster, gag-making and synthetic optimism. Finally unable to explain how to manage one border on the island of Ireland – Johnson proposed two. Unstunningly, this two-for-one offer cut no mustard either. The situation seemed impossible, doomed. But something seems to have changed.

READ MORE: Brexit: ‘Pathway to deal possible’ as deadline looms for Boris Johnson

One critical question of contemporary British politics is whether this Prime Minister (a) is or (b) has ever been serious about renegotiating an agreement on the UK’s departure from the EU. On the evidence of the last month, you could be forgiven for suspecting the whole enterprise of EU renegotiation was a cynical sham, a dumb show that had more to do about managing public opinion than stress-testing alternatives to Theresa May’s deals. Her Majesty’s government has been giving every impression it’s only going through the motions better to position themselves as the wounded party when the talks land head first in the septic tank, largely as a result of the unreality of Her Majesty’s governments demands.

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Now, it is difficult to be so sure. Last week brought the first authentic – and, critically, corroborated – suggestion of any progress whatever between Boris Johnson’s minority administration and the Europeans with barely a week in hand until the EU leaders’ summit next Thursday. Emerging from a three-hour meeting with the Tory PM, Varadkar told the assembled media he “could see a pathway to a possible deal”, with both sides characterising the meeting as “very positive and very promising”. Fishguard, Heysham and Warrenpoint, Cairnryan, Larne, Holyhead, Rosslare, Pembroke and Dún Laoghaire – welcome to your newer and damper Irish border.

But the Dublin delegation sounded a note of caution: “There’s many a slip between cup and lip,” said Varadkar, “and lots of things that are not in my control.” Critical among those factors is how a majority of MPs in Westminster might react to any accord brought back by Boris Johnson from Brussels next Saturday.

READ MORE: I’m stressed by Brexit, but I’m glad I get to see it from Scotland

The Irish Taoiseach has become something of a hate figure for sections of the British media. In the early ructions of the Brexit process back in 2017, one tabloid suggested the “naive young prime minister” should “shut his gob and grow up” after he expressed regrets about the UK’s vote to leave the EU. The Brexit press have depicted this stiff, right-wing West Brit as some kind of republican, orange white and green in tooth and claw. The more excitable corners of Fleet Street have tried to cast a tepid Fine Gael-er as some kind of rabid Shinner, bent on the break-up of the United Kingdom and the re-incorporation of the six counties into a united Ireland. For anyone who knows anything about modern Irish politics, this bad casting is beyond comic.

Watching the half-promise of a vaguely possible Brexit deal emerge from the Wirral manor house last week – it has been entertaining to watch the rapid reverse-ferret among some loyal Brexiteers. If Varadkar is prepared to play handmaiden to a Johnson-led departure from the EU, then for most of the Prime Minister’s apologists in the media, this callow sprout of an Irish PM has been promoted from wrecker to fellow statesman and valued friend and ally. Read politics cynically and you’ll rarely be disappointed. Anatomy isn’t a strong point of the soullessly partisan. You’d think people’s heads buttoned up backwards.

But there remains a touching faith in DUP circles – at least in public – that Johnson won’t double-bonk them on the sly with the Irish government. With misplaced swagger, a DUP source told the Irish Times last week that the Irish Taoiseach “can’t be getting what he wants on customs as Boris loses his majority for a deal the second that he does”. This is a droll line from those terminally loyal Democratic Unionists, who loyally helped to deprive Theresa May of a majority three times. But as Boris Johnson’s technology trainers have tended to discover, the PM is a mercurial character. Betrayal becomes an intellectual habit, and you can only betray your loved ones, allies and friends.

In Robert Bolt’s play, A Man for All Seasons, Thomas More faces trial for his staunch refusal to recognise King Henry VIII’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon. He is betrayed in court by Richard Rich. In exchange for his perjured testimony against More, Thomas Cromwell sees to it that the spineless and unprincipled Rich is elevated to the exalted position of attorney general for Wales. “It profit a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world, Richard,” Thomas More reflects bleakly to his former protege, “but for Wales.”

The idea this PM is any more sentimental than Richard Rich about his ties to the DUP is a sweet fiction. In December 1993, John Major declared Britain had “no selfish strategic or economic interest in Northern Ireland”. Britain has “no interest in Northern Ireland” would be a pithier summary of all the fucks given by most UK politicians for the wearying, alien world of Northern Ireland politics. The idea that Boris Johnson will put his administration to the touch for the sake of Arlene Foster merits only bleak laughter. There is no way anyone can be this naïve.

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The prospect of a customs border in the Irish sea offers both the UK and Europe a potential escape route, as Halloween crawls towards us, with its new legion of ghouls, sprites and monsters. But for supporters of Scottish independence, this solution throws up only challenges. In the best of all possible worlds, the Irish experience of Brexit might have shown us how a border regime could work in practice when the EU frontier straddles one island, with one part in the common market and the other outside of it.

An Irish fix could have been an object lesson and precedent for how an independent Scotland’s border relationship with Britain might have been managed. Sinking the Irish border between the north and St George’s channel solves the problem of running border posts through Cavan and Fermanagh – but it leaves those of us who support Scottish independence in Europe facing precisely the unresolved conundrum all the Brexit negotiations since 2016 couldn’t untangle.