Sunday 18 August 2019

Majority fail to back Leo Varadkar's Brexit strategy

Poll: Only 43pc are satisfied with Taoiseach's performance

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Jody Corcoran

Jody Corcoran

The Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, has failed to win majority public approval for his handling of Brexit, according to a Kantar/Sunday Independent opinion poll.

In a surprise finding, less than half of those polled (43pc) were satisfied with Mr Varadkar's performance in the increasingly difficult Brexit process.

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And in a further blow, this finding precisely mirrors the satisfaction rating for Mr Varadkar's performance in general as Taoiseach.

The survey was conducted nationwide throughout the contest for the leadership of the Conservative Party and during the first two days of the premiership of Boris Johnson in the United Kingdom.

The poll also found a small but notable softening of support for the European Union across a range of issues, with almost three-quarters (72pc) of the farming community concerned about the proposed EU trade deal with the Mercosur countries in South America.

With a no-deal Brexit looking more likely under Mr Johnson's leadership, the poll findings indicate growing public unease here with the EU's strategy on Brexit and the central role adopted by Mr Varadkar.

Asked how satisfied they were with Mr Varadkar's performance in his dealings on Brexit, a minority (43pc) said they were satisfied, of which 33pc were "quite satisfied" and 10pc "very satisfied".

However, more than a quarter (27pc) were not satisfied, of which 14pc were "quite dissatisfied" and 13pc "very dissatisfied".

A further sizeable 22pc were neither satisfied nor dissatisfied and 8pc did not know.

Mr Varadkar's satisfaction rating on Brexit is higher among better-off AB voters (48pc) and those in the lower middle class C1 category (49pc), voters in Dublin (53pc) and those aged 35-33 (51pc), while his dissatisfaction rating is higher in Leinster and among older generations.

Until now, the Taoiseach's handling of the Brexit process was widely believed by his supporters to be one of the stronger points of his leadership. The findings will, therefore, come as a concern to Mr Varadkar.

In the Sunday Independent today, Kantar associate director Paul Moran writes: "This poll suggests that there is uneasiness with the current Government strategy and, arguably, its megaphone diplomacy."

Yesterday Mr Johnson cautioned the EU that the backstop, which he said was undemocratic and divisive, needed to be ditched if they were to strike a Brexit divorce deal.

"If we get rid of the backstop whole and entire, then we are making a lot of progress," he said, when asked if it is was only the Irish Border backstop that he wanted changed.

"The approach of the UK government is not going to be disengaged or aloof or waiting for them to come to us: we are going to try to solve this problem and we are going to do it in a spirit of friendship and cooperation.

"But we can't do it as long as that anti-democratic backstop, that backstop that seeks to divide our country, divide the UK, remains in place," he said. "We need to get it out and then we can make progress, I think."

Last Friday, in a high unusual intervention in internal British politics, Mr Varadkar warned that a hard Brexit could threaten the place of Northern Ireland and Scotland in the UK.

He said: "One of the things that, ironically, could really undermine the union of the UK is a hard Brexit, both for Northern Ireland and for Scotland, and that is a problem they are going to have to face."

Foreign Affairs Minister, Simon Coveney also said Mr Johnson seemed to have made a "deliberate decision" to set Britain on a collision course with the EU and with Ireland in relation to Brexit.

In a cause for further concern for Mr Varadkar, today's poll also finds he is unable to command majority support for his general performance as Taoiseach: a minority of 43pc are satisfied, 32pc dissatisfied, 20pc say neither and 6pc don't know.

The questions were asked in sequence, on Brexit first, among a representative sample of 967 people at 64 sampling points throughout the country between July 14 and 25. The margin of error is 3.2pc.

In other results, the poll found a degree of concern in relation to the EU deal with the Mercosur trade bloc countries: 53pc of respondents agreed that they were concerned while 15pc disagreed, with the remainder neither agreeing nor disagreeing or saying they did not know. Concern among the farming community was registered at 72pc.

There has also been an appreciable increase in concern in relation to the EU and Brexit: 56pc agreed the EU would respect Ireland's special position with the UK in the Brexit negotiations, down six points since July 2018; 77pc agreed that, historically, the EU has been good to Ireland, down seven points; 68pc agreed that, on balance, the EU has been good to Ireland over the past 10 years, down eight points; while 71pc agreed the EU had more control over Ireland's economic situation than the Government, down one point in a year.

These findings also indicate a growing level of anxiety among voters in Ireland over the outcome of Brexit and strong, but softening, trust in relation to the role in that to be played by the EU.

Yesterday, the DUP East Antrim MP, Sammy Wilson, accused the Government here of an "hysterical and self-centred response" to the "reasonable demands" of Mr Johnson.

He also claimed it "very obvious" that a deal which avoided the backstop was possible.

"Ireland's own admission that it will not be imposing a physical infrastructure in the event of no deal, demonstrates there is no chance of a hard border being required or even happening.

"If there is any side which is to set itself on a collision course it is the EU and the Irish," Mr Wilson said.

He added that the "megaphone reaction" of the Irish Government demonstrated that the "blatant attempts" by "Leo Varadkar and Co" to use the Irish Border as a means of undermining Britain's referendum had backfired.

Mr Wilson said the Irish Government walked the world stage and styled itself as the victim of British aggression: "'Poor little Ireland' may have worked in the past but people are growing tired of the same old tune. The game is up.

"They have overplayed their hand and they need to change course.

"Instead of pandering to Ireland's grumbles the UK should be now making it clear that in the event of a no deal, if the Irish, as they have claimed, will impose tariffs on goods coming from the United Kingdom into Ireland, then the British will be doing the same on Irish goods.

"It's quite clear that the Irish believe tariffs can be collected on goods travelling from Northern Ireland to the Irish Republic on the Border, so there is absolutely no reason why the taxes can't be collected on the other side without disrupting trade flows or requiring physical infrastructure."

In a further indication of an increasingly poisoned atmosphere, Mr Wilson said he would be enquiring as to who gave Mr Coveney access and permission to use parliament buildings in Stormont for a press conference to attack the UK prime minister.

Sunday Independent

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