Leo Varadkar’s ‘high-risk Brexit strategy’ exposed as opposition looms
Mr Varadkar was humiliated in the Irish general election earlier this month when Fine Gael fell into third place behind its rivals Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein. After nine years in power, Fine Gael is likely to be heading into opposition after refusing to go into coalition with Sinn Fein. Mr Varadkar emphasised only this week that the “onus” was on Fianna Fail and Sinn Fein to form a government after the election’s three-way split.
Mr Varadkar took over the role of Taoiseach when Enda Kenny stepped down in 2017. His legacy will be the Brexit negotiations – which has since been dubbed “high-risk” – as Dublin was pulled into the heart of the negotiations over the Irish border.
Writing in the New Statesman back in September, Professor Brendan Simms said: “When initial attempts to establish clarity about the overall EU-UK relationship failed, the Dublin government embarked on a high-risk strategy.
“The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced that he would not ‘design a border’ for Britain.
“Instead, he persuaded Brussels to demand that whatever economic arrangements the UK chose after Brexit would not ‘force’ the Irish to erect a customs boundary on the border to ‘defend’ the single market.”
Mr Simms explained that this was a “political” move rather than one motivated by the economy.
He continued: “The EU made this demand partly because it could not conceive of any other way of avoiding a border, partly to prevent the British from using Northern Ireland as a way back into the single market, and partly to box them in during the negotiations.”
He added: “It represented a major ordering demand of the EU over the UK – exactly the sort of thing Brexit was designed to avoid.”
Mr Simms claimed that Mr Varadkar “appeared to have played a blinder”, while strengthening the Irish hand and showing clearly that Ireland’s loyalties lay with the EU.
The historian continued: “Varadkar appeared smiling at a press conference with Juncker, who was brandishing a card from a family in Dublin that stated, as it subsequently emerged, that ‘for the first time ever Ireland is stronger than Britain’.”
Former President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker was one of the key figures who believed that Britain could not strike a deal with the EU by the-then Brexit deadline of October 31.
Mr Simms claimed Mr Varadkar’s decision even increased talk of a united Ireland.
The historian did point out that Dublin and Brussels could only “win” the Brexit battle if the UK stayed in the customs union, or if there was a border in the Irish Sea.
If there was a customs boundary along the Irish border the EU would ultimately have lost.
He said through Mr Varadkar’s tactics, Dublin had “carried off the ultimate act of cherry-picking”, by ensuring “the previous pattern of Anglo-Irish geopolitics seemed to have been reversed”.
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Mr Johnson has since settled on the Irish border in the sea to resolve the impasse – arguably meaning Mr Varadkar “won” the Brexit debate.
Yet when Mr Varadkar called a snap general election in February, many believed it was too many months after his Brexit deal for him to reap its rewards.
Indeed, even his own seat was at risk – it was not until the fifth vote that it was revealed he would be able to continue on as a TD.
Writing in The Spectator last week, commentator Brendan O’Neill said that Mr Varadkar had actually paid the price for banging the “Brexit-loathing drum” in the Irish election.
He explained: “Varadkar’s attempt to make the election about Brexit – and about his apparently brave efforts to frustrate Brexit – fell spectacularly flat.”
The commentator tore into the outgoing Taoiseach’s focus on Brexit and the EU, and claimed “he turned Ireland into little more than a battering ram against Brexit” rather than looking into domestic issues.
According to a poll conducted by Ipsos/MRBI only one percent of voters were focused on Brexit in this election – which meant Mr Varadkar’s efforts back in October amounted to very little at the ballot box.
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