Friday 17 August 2018

Dan O'Brien: When stakes are this high, threatening UK with a veto may not be the best bet

Leo Varadkar is doing a high-wire act on Brexit. Being tough with London plays well here, but it is less clear that it will achieve Irish objectives, writes Dan O'Brien

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Gerry Mooney
Dan O'Brien

Dan O'Brien

Is the Irish Government overplaying its hand in the Brexit talks? That question has arisen a number of times over the course of Leo Varadkar's premiership and in particular over the past 10 days. The consequences of doing so, in a worst-case scenario, would be to leave Ireland vulnerable in Brussels, alienate even the more moderate elements in London and end up with all the downsides of a hard Brexit. The prize, if all stars align, would be to minimise the implications of Brexit for Ireland, both in terms of border issues and east-west economic ties.

Irish diplomacy faces a challenge as great as any it has ever had to deal with. None of this is surprising. Brexit was always going to be a strategic nightmare for Ireland given its multiple complexities and the inevitability of being squeezed between two of the country's most important, and much larger partners. It has been, and will continue to be, an extraordinarily difficult balancing act to pursue Irish interests as aggressively as is necessary, while keeping the rest of the EU on side and limiting the damage that Brexit will inevitably do to Ireland-Britain relations.

Even for those following the swings and roundabouts of Brexit closely, recent developments have been hard to keep up with. Here is a brief recap on how, as of this weekend, a situation has been reached in which Ireland-Britain relations are more strained than at any time since Charles Haughey and Margaret Thatcher were in office in the Troubles-racked 1980s.

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