Tuesday 22 October 2019

Varadkar hits out at Brexiteers 'chasing unicorns' as he warns no-deal a growing possibility

  • Taoiseach Leo Varadkar hits out at hard-line Brexiteers "chasing unicorns"
  • Vardakar: Irish government has been preparing for a no-deal scenario
  • 'The government has your back' - Taoiseach to Ireland's exporters, business, farmers and fishermen
  • Varadkar defended Ireland's corporate tax rate, saying that it gives investors "certainty"
  • President Donald Trump has developed "an affection" for Mr Varadkar - claim
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking at the US Chamber of Commerce in Washington DC during his visit to the US Credit: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking at the US Chamber of Commerce in Washington DC during his visit to the US Credit: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Cormac McQuinn and Kevin Doyle

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has hit out at UK Brexiteers saying they have been chasing unicorns "for a very long time" and warned that the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal is now a "growing possibility".

He made the remarks in Washington as he responded for the first time to yesterday's Westminster vote rejecting British Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit deal with the EU.

Mr Varadkar has said the Irish government has been preparing for a no-deal scenario and said that "as a result of the vote yesterday in the House of Commons it is now a growing possibility".

He also raised concerns about UK proposals for tariff-free cross border trade in Ireland in a no-deal situation questioning if it would be workable.

He suggested it could ultimately result in customs checks at ports in Northern Ireland.

Mr Varadkar also took a swipe at hard-line Brexiteers.

He said: "I think a lot of the people who advocated for Brexit have been chasing unicorns now for a very long time.

"And as we head into the next few weeks it should be patently obvious to everyone that unicorns only exist in fairy tales.

He added: "I would say to people who advocated Brexit - is this really what they wanted? - protectionism tariffs, borders, restrictions on trade? Is this really what Brexit was all about?"

Responding to another chaotic night in Westminster, Mr Varadkar said: "Things are looking a little brighter today than they did yesterday.

"The House of Commons has voted decisively against leaving the EU without a deal."

He now anticipates the UK will seek an extension and the EU will want to know “what the purpose of that extension is and for how long."


Mr Varadkar said of the UK's proposals for no tariffs across the Northern Ireland border that "European Law and European Customs code will apply so the common external tariff will apply to any goods exported from the United Kingdom to the European Union."

He said he didn't think the UK's suggestions would be workable for very long.

He said: "They propose to treat Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the United Kingdom in a few weeks time.

"Let's not forget one of the big objections to the backstop was that that might happen in a few years time."

He warned that the idea could see Northern Ireland become "a back door to the European Single Market".

He added:  "I think within a matter of months that would lead to the need for checks at Northern Ireland's ports.

"So those who oppose the agreement may find that something very akin to the backstop is applied by the UK government in only a few weeks time."

Mr Varadkar said he knows a lot of people in Ireland are very worried today about the prospect of a no-deal Brexit.

He said: "I want to say to our exporters and our business people today, our farmers, our fishermen, the government has your back.

"We have put in place a package of measures to support incomes, to support and assist business, to restructure and re-orientate to new markets.

"There will be damage limitation, we will protect incomes, we will protect jobs and we will support businesses to overcome whatever happens in the next couple of weeks."

He promised the broader public that the Common Travel Area between Ireland and the UK including free movement will continue and that this has already been agreed.

Ireland prepared for no-deal

He insisted Ireland is "well prepared for a no-deal. "

Mr Varadkar added: "Unlike other countries we have a budget surplus, we can borrow if we have to and the NTMA has the cash on standby.

"This is something we have been preparing for for many years now."

Mr Varadkar was also asked about a possible extension to the UK's departure date from the EU.

He said: "I think an extension has to have a purpose.

"That's really what we need to hear from London in the next couple of days after they have their various votes today and tomorrow and perhaps if there are more votes too.

"If there is an extension, what's the point to it?

"We don't want a rolling cliff edge where tough decisions that they have to make get put off until the end of June, the end of July or September.

"That is not going to work for anyone."

Defending corporate tax rate

Mr Varadkar also defended Ireland's corporate tax rate, saying that it gives investors "certainty".

The Fine Gael leader said that Ireland's corporate tax has been at 12.5pc for decades and that "isn't going to change".

"There are actually countries in the European Union that have a lower tax rate than us so we are not even the lowest," he added.

"I think what we offer is certainty that even though there may be changes in Government, even though we may go through different economic cycles of recession or growth, that is a certainty and I think that gives investors or potential investors that certainty you need if you're making the 20 or 30-year multibillion-euro investment in an economy. You want to know the fundamentals of those of policies are going to stay the same."

Following meetings with businesses leaders, community leaders and members of the Irish diaspora, Mr Varadkar addressed an audience as part of his engagements in the US capital.

Speaking on stage, US Chamber of Commerce chief executive Tom Donohue said that Ireland was able to improve its economy and employment because "it stuck to its tax rates".

"Now we are beginning to see in the EU there are a lot of discussions on digital taxes on big companies, which is the next discussion in how do we tax people more than they would like," he added.

He asked the Taoiseach how Ireland was keeping to its tax commitments.

"On (EU) proposals around digital tax, we didn't support them and they have largely been parked," Mr Varadkar added.

"Some countries like France have gone ahead and done that unilaterally which is entirely their right to do that. But that has been parked as an EU proposal and we are now looking for a global solution from the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) and I think that is the right approach.

"People across the EU and probably America see that they pay a lot of income tax and they wonder why some big companies don't and why some big companies don't pay their fair share of taxes, and that's not sustainable nor is it right.

"I think there will be changes in global taxation and I want Ireland to be on the right side of history when it comes to those but we shouldn't do anything that creates a disadvantage for ourselves or hands an advantage to our competitors and that's why if we are going to change the way tax is structured, the best way to do it is on an international level and I think that is best done through the OECD."

Trump has developed "an affection" for Varadkar - claim

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump has developed "an affection" for Mr Varadkar because of how he has represented US interests during Brexit, it has been claimed.

The remarks were made by Thomas Donohue, the president and chief executive of the US Chamber of Commerce, during a 'fireside chat' on how Ireland is the "Gateway of the Atlantic".

Mr Varadkar had meetings with US and Irish business figures at the Chamber's Washington headquarters.

Introducing the Taoiseach, Mr Donohue said: "The President of the United States and lots of people have developed an affection for this man because of the way he has represented our interests, the United States' interests, in a very challenging time due to Brexit."

He added that Mr Varadkar has been "an excellent representative".

Mr Varadkar didn't respond directly to the comments during the discussion this evening.

He spoke about the Global Ireland initiative and how Ireland can be a bridge between the US and Europe, particularly as the UK leaves the EU.

He pointed out that the US and Ireland speak the same language and have similar business cultures.

He said Ireland is expanding its presence in the US planned consulates in Los Angeles and Miami and that there's a two-way economic relationship in relation to jobs and trade.

More than 100,000 people are employed by Irish companies in the United States and American companies have around 155,000 workers in Ireland.

Mr Varadkar told those gathered that Ireland and the EU regrets the UK Brexit decision.

He added: "if they were ever to change their mind it would be like the prodigal son returning and we'd welcome them again with open arms.

"But we have to respect the decision they have made which is to leave."

He said: "Whatever happens – Ireland, we made our decision a long time ago.

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