Monday 16 September 2019

Colette Browne: 'Varadkar must somehow make Trump understand that a no-deal Brexit could come back to haunt him'

US President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump arrive at Downing Street. Photo: PA
US President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump arrive at Downing Street. Photo: PA
Colette Browne

Colette Browne

The ego has landed. US President Donald Trump arrives in Ireland today on what amounts to nothing more than a marketing trip for his golf resort in Doonbeg.

After the pomp and ceremony of his state visit to Britain, where Mr Trump and his family enjoyed a lavish banquet with the royal family and 170 of their poshest friends, his trip to Ireland will be a damp squib.

Having met Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace, and Theresa May at Downing Street, Mr Trump will sit down for a meeting with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in the opulent surrounds of, er, Shannon Airport.

Surprisingly, the location for the tête-à-tête was one of the more controversial aspects of Mr Trump's visit. When the trip was being finalised, there was reportedly a standoff, with Irish officials suggesting a meeting at Dromoland Castle and the Americans insisting on Doonbeg, before the neutral ground of the airport was eventually agreed.

This raises something of a problem for the Irish when it comes to managing expectations. Back in 2014, when he was a mere billionaire, Mr Trump was greeted at Shannon Airport with a red carpet, harpist, singer, violinist and fawning local dignitaries, so he will presumably be expecting the cast of 'Riverdance' to be waiting on the runway when he arrives there today.

Instead, it will be left to Mr Varadkar to greet the president and try to hold his attention long enough to convey Irish concerns over his dangerous rhetoric on Brexit and immigration.

The Taoiseach faces an impossible task. Venal, mercurial and an egotist, Mr Trump's only interest in Ireland is getting some snaps to satiate the Irish American lobby back home while playing a few rounds of golf in his beloved Doonbeg.

In fact, Mr Varadkar is going to find himself the only obstacle between Mr Trump and his one true love, golf.

The president, through his company, owns or operates 17 different golf courses around the world, including his resort in Co Clare.

So, perhaps it's no surprise that, since becoming president, he has spent 22pc of his time in office playing golf, at a reported cost to the American people of $100m (€89m).

If you think that seems excessive, consider this. By the end of this summer, Mr Trump will have spent nearly $500,000 on golf carts alone.

Then factor in the cost of his security arrangements as he lumbers around the green.

Unlike previous presidents, who had the grace and decency to distance themselves from their private business operations when they ascended to high office, Mr Trump takes every opportunity to use his position to enrich himself.

Hence, the arrogant insistence the Taoiseach should join him in Doonbeg, thereby reducing the leader of our country to a cheap prop in Mr Trump's latest marketing wheeze.

Mr Varadkar was right to refuse to allow the office he holds to be manipulated in this way, but it is regrettable Mr Trump was too stubborn and insolent to agree to a meeting in some other part of Co Clare, a beautiful county which has more than just a Trump hotel to recommend it.

Nevertheless, the bleak circumstances of the meeting now pose a problem for Mr Varadkar.

To make matters even worse, unlike nearly every American president since JFK, bar Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, Mr Trump doesn't even appear to have any Irish ancestry that can be employed by our politicians to ingratiate themselves to him.

In the absence of cheering crowds, royalty, a historic meeting point, or a genealogical link, Mr Varadkar will have to rely on a megaton of naked flattery to try to get anywhere with the self-aggrandising Mr Trump.

Like all of those who suffer from narcissistic personality disorder, Mr Trump has a pathological need for validation and admiration that he expects to be indulged by everyone he meets, including other world leaders.

However, given the Taoiseach's previous disparaging comments about the president, finding the words to massage Mr Trump's already enormous ego may not be as easy as one would think.

Back in 2017, Mr Varadkar was adamant that, if he were Taoiseach, he wouldn't bother inviting Mr Trump to Ireland, saying: "I'm not sure what purpose it would serve."

As if that were not bad enough, yesterday it was revealed Mr Varadkar had met with one of Mr Trump's arch nemeses, former president Barack Obama, when he was in Washington for the annual Paddy's Day shenanigans this year.

Given Mr Trump obsesses about every single bit of media coverage about himself, one has to assume that news of this treachery will have reached him by the time he lands in Shannon today.

Insisting on a meeting with Mr Obama while ostensibly in Washington to meet his successor was an own goal from the Taoiseach, who may now find a very icy reception from Mr Trump.

Despite Mr Trump's myriad character flaws, and odious opinions, he will be president until at least January 2020 and the Irish have to find some way to work with him and his administration.

Today, the Taoiseach has to try to find some way to communicate at least one strong message to him - the existential threat that a no-deal Brexit would pose for peace and security on this island.

Given he has just 30 minutes to work with, Mr Varadkar should focus on attempting to explain why an open Border to Northern Ireland is an essential requirement of any Brexit deal.

Because, patently, Mr Trump either doesn't get it or doesn't give a damn. His chums, Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson, have his ear and have convinced him that removing the "shackles" of EU membership, in any way possible, is what is paramount. If this comes at the cost of a hard Border on the island of Ireland, then that is a price that they deem worth paying.

In order to pierce through the stupendous idiocy of this position, Mr Varadkar should emphasise the central role that the United States had in securing peace on this island.

He should remind Mr Trump that he is responsible for protecting this legacy - and find some way to intimate that if the Good Friday Agreement is abandoned, and Mr Trump's dangerous rhetoric facilitated it, then he will be culpable.

A catastrophe like that, if it were to arise, would incense the Irish American lobby back home and Trump's hopes of a second term in office would be dealt a significant blow.

Ultimately, tempering his language on Brexit, and the attractiveness of a no-deal exit, is not just in Ireland's interests, it's in Mr Trump's own self-interest too.

Today, Mr Varadkar just has to find some way to convince him of that.

Irish Independent

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