Amidst the political fallout in the UK following the government's controversial draft Brexit deal, an equally important development in Ireland went relatively unnoticed.
During the ruling Fine Gael party's annual conference, foreign minister Simon Coveney confirmed that Ireland has no plans to prepare infrastructure for a hard border with the UK, even in a no-deal scenario. Irish Taoiseach (prime minister) Leo Varadkar reinforced this point—albeit subtly—by refusing to confirm that a hard border would arise if the UK left the EU without a deal. Instead, he stated it would be "very difficult" to avoid a hard border, giving no indication to reporters that the Irish government is preparing to build border infrastructure.
This is an incredibly important admission, giving a rare glimpse into the Irish government's true position. Ultimately, no Irish government will survive another election cycle if it's known as the government that put up hard border infrastructure between the Republic and the North. The open border is indeed an exceptional achievement, and no government on either side of the border is willing to change that.
That neither Dublin nor London has any intention of erecting a hard border is key - because most of the difficulty negotiations have encountered and all the concessions by the British government to the EU are predicated on the avoidance of a hard border. By effectively holding the Irish border ransom, Brussels has successfully strong-armed the UK into submission.
At the same time, neither the EU nor the Irish government has explained exactly how a hard border would arise should no deal be reached by March 29, 2019. With all the negotiating parties committed to not building infrastructure at border crossings, why should anyone expect expensive infrastructure and thousands of border agents to magically materialise?
Indeed, the Irish-EU position is a bluff and the British government has fallen for it.
Thankfully, it is not too late. The draft Brexit deal may have squeezed its way through Prime Minister Theresa May's cabinet, but it is highly unlikely to make it through Parliament. The question, therefore, is whether the government can withstand efforts from all fronts to avoid a no deal scenario.
Downing Street's obstinate desire for a deal is its greatest weakness. In pushing for agreement at all costs rather than calling the EU's bluff on the Irish border, Theresa May's negotiating team has backed itself into a corner. The only way out of this corner is to understand that a no-deal scenario is far more politically damaging to Ireland and its Taoiseach than it is to the UK.
Whether a deal is struck or not, there will be no hard border in Ireland. The UK doesn't want one, Ireland doesn't want one. It's high time to call the Irish bluff, and get on with delivering the single biggest democratic instruction in British history.