So the offer to make major changes, such as dropping the requirement for most checks on food products being sent from the mainland UK to Northern Ireland, is a welcome sign that the EU is willing to make compromises to resolve the situation.
We should remember that preserving the integrity of the European single market is of extreme importance to the EU, which will worry about creating a backdoor for smugglers.
Regrettably, the table-banging approach adopted to date by Westminster is a sign that Johnson’s government may be less interested in constructive solutions to the practical problems in Northern Ireland than it is in picking a populist fight with the EU.
Such an extension of the Brexit referendum campaign may play well among a certain constituency in Britain – Johnson’s ‘base’ – but it could have serious repercussions for the country.
According to Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s former chief adviser and now one of his most committed critics, the Prime Minister did not actually understand the Brexit deal he signed and there was a plan to “ditch the bits we didn't like” after the 2019 general election.
This prompted Ireland’s deputy premier Leo Varadkar to warn other countries about signing agreements with the UK – such as much-needed trade deals – saying it indicated the British government had “acted in bad faith”.
Cummings’ fallout with Johnson has been so bitter that his pronouncements come with a substantial health warning. However, the UK’s response to the EU’s offer should help everyone involved decide whether the Prime Minister genuinely wants to resolve Northern Ireland’s problems or if he is still playing the Brussels-bashing political game that helped him move into 10 Downing Street.
It may sound overly cynical to suggest Johnson could be willing to put his poll ratings above the risk of serious damage to the still-fragile peace in Northern Ireland, a lasting blow to the UK’s international reputation, and further harm to relations with the liberal democracies of Europe, our natural allies, but it seems likely we will discover the truth as the negotiations unfold.