Tuesday 20 August 2019

Varadkar tries to ensure EU has our backs if it all goes horribly wrong

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
Photo: Frank McGrath
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar Photo: Frank McGrath
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

It might be the middle of August but Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has been left with no option but to hit the phones.

In recent days he has been in contact with a number of European leaders, sampling the mood across the continent.

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While EU solidarity has been important at every point in the Brexit process, the next three months will be crucial.

The UK is banking that panic will set in as Germany struggles to fend off recession and French ports face up to the reality of chaos at Calais.

It seems clear Boris Johnson hopes some smaller countries will start to peel away and ultimately blame Ireland for the chaos a disorderly Brexit will bring.

At this stage, very few people in the Irish Government believe Mr Johnson is bluffing when he claims the UK will leave on October 31 "come what may".

UK ministers and media will blame Ireland for whatever happens, citing the refusal to back down on the backstop.

And, as a result, it is all the more important that we keep the EU on-side.

We simply can't afford to have burned ties with the UK and be the outcasts of Europe at the same time.

It's with that in mind that Mr Varadkar has interrupted the summer break of some key players. One of those to get a call was the prime minister of the Netherlands, Mark Rutte, whom the Taoiseach views as one of his most trusted allies at the European Council table.

Mr Rutte can be relied upon to fight the Irish corner and previously warned the UK it would be a "diminished country" regardless of the circumstances under which it leaves the EU.

Next up was Pedro Sánchez, who has his own problems in Spain.

Mr Sánchez has been reduced to the role of caretaker prime minister as he battles against the tide to form a new government. Spain is worried about its citizens in the UK post-Brexit and the effect on trade and tourism.

An unlikely name on Mr Varadkar's contact list was Estonia's Jüri Ratas - but that's hardly surprising given that Mr Ratas was the first EU head of government to meet with Boris Johnson.

Speaking after that meeting on Tuesday, he claimed to have put forward the EU position on Brexit to Mr Johnson, including the idea "nobody will benefit from the UK's departure".

"It is clear that this so-called backstop is not acceptable to Brits. It was said today that it is unthinkable that the EU would start renegotiating the exit deal. We have basically reached an impasse, in the context of October," was his non-committal analysis.

But Mr Ratas did go on to add that if a no-deal Brexit occurs, it would mean "a great deal of concerns for the future ... starting with the Border issue".

Further calls to other EU leaders are being lined up for the coming days, including next week when Mr Varadkar will be on his own holidays.

Mr Johnson will eventually face European Council President Donald Tusk and Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at the G7 summit in France later this month.

Brexit is not on the agenda but it will surely be an unavoidable topic. In the meantime, Ireland must ensure the EU will still have our backs if it all goes horribly wrong.

Irish Independent

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