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Sunday 26 January 2020

Weak Tories offer chance for a better Brexit - Varadkar

Leo Varadkar. Picture: Tom Burke
Leo Varadkar. Picture: Tom Burke

Kevin Doyle and Ralph Riegal

Incoming Taoiseach Leo Varadkar believes Theresa May's disastrous election result should rule out a so-called 'hard Brexit' and present an opportunity for Ireland.

As Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil rounded on Sinn Féin for not using its seven seats to influence the UK parliament, Mr Varadkar said the outcome of the snap election means "there is no strong mandate to proceed with a hard Brexit".

Throughout the campaign the British prime minister had talked up a tough approach to the Brexit negotiations which are due to begin in nine days.

However, she is now relying on Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party to keep her fragile government in office.

While pro-Brexit, the DUP has adopted a softer attitude to its British allies as many of its voters are farmers who depend heavily on EU grants for their income.

Read More: Humiliated May facing party revolt

Among a list of Brexit priorities identified by the DUP in advance of the election is the ease of trade between Northern Ireland and the Republic, and a frictionless Border for people crossing.

Mr Varadkar had expected to speak with the winner of the UK election yesterday - but the unexpected result meant a phone call did not take place.

A spokesperson told the Irish Independent they communicated by letter earlier in the week and "will be in touch again soon".

However, Mr Varadkar indicated that he sees the result as "an opportunity for Ireland".

"We must ensure that the Brexit talks are handled in a smooth and coherent manner to secure the best possible outcome for Ireland, for Europe and the UK," he said.

The DUP's central role in the shaping of the British government's Brexit policy places Sinn Féin in a difficult position.

Gerry Adams's party gained three seats, bringing its total to seven, but the party leader said there was "no danger whatsoever" of it taking its positions in Westminster.

Read More: What does the UK vote mean for Ireland?

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin accused Sinn Féin of acting in a "totally illogical" fashion. "I think it is not acceptable and I think it was a crazy (Sinn Féin) policy to say in advance 'we attack the Tories, we don't want the Tories in government and we attack the Government in the Republic for not being strong enough with the Tories' and, lo and behold, they get a mandate and they decide not to exercise it to curtail the worst excesses, if you like it, of the Tories," Mr Martin said.

"I think it is totally illogical for Sinn Féin to say it can stay out of Westminster given that Brexit is the single greatest issue facing our generation."

Similarly, Fine Gael minister Simon Coveney described the Sinn Féin stance as "strange", adding: "I listened to Gerry Adams this morning and I think that, in the context of Brexit, it is a difficult position to understand given how the peace process has moved forward and so on."

The criticism drew an angry response from Sinn Féin's deputy leader Mary Lou McDonald who challenged Fianna Fáil to run candidates in the North.

Read More: May plans her new government with help of unionist 'friends'

"Micheál Martin is a hurler on the ditch in this election. We will not take lectures from him. Sinn Féin represents the Nationalist and Republican people in the north of our country, Fianna Fáil doesn't even attempt to represent people there, so Micheál Martin should either put up or shut up," she said.

The Dublin TD said Sinn Féin MPs were elected with the mandate of not taking their Westminster seats.

Ruth Coppinger, of Solidarity, said the result showed that left-wing policies "are back on the agenda and can win mass support". "Labour's gains are the result not of an incompetent Tory campaign, but of a revolt against the establishment and the search for an alternative to the right-wing policies of the 'extreme centre'," she said.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said the election is "a victory for Jeremy Corbyn who ran a positive campaign but he remains in opposition and seems to have no alternative strategy when it comes to the Brexit talks".

Irish Independent

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