Varadkar sidesteps united Ireland question at Davos amid NI protocol talks

Davos 2023: Taoiseach said protocol talks at a ‘sensitive point’

The Taoiseach Leo Varadkar swerved clear of a question on the prospects of a united Ireland during his lifetime on Thursday, citing sensitivity over talks to secure a breakthrough on the Northern Ireland protocol.

“I’ve answered that question before, but we’re at a sensitive point in talks in relation to the protocol,” Mr Varadkar said during a Davos panel on the future of Europe.

“Should we be able to come to an agreement, we should try to get support of all communities. I don’t want to say anything that might be seen to be provocative to anybody north of the Border.”

As Tánaiste back in June 2021, Mr Varadkar was criticised by the UK’s then Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis for saying he believed there could be a united Ireland in his lifetime. Mr Lewis said at the time that the comments were “unhelpful and ill-advised”.


Mr Varadkar said that “trust has built up” between the European Union and the UK government under prime minster Rishi Sunak as talks continue over finding a solution to the Northern Ireland protocol. He said that it is important that whatever agreement may be reached is adhered to, after former UK prime minister Boris Johnson “decided to resile” from a previous accord.

“A landing zone is not good enough. It needs to be a stable landing zone,” he said. “So, we need to be confident that it will get through the House of Commons, which I’m sure it will, because [Mr Sunak] has a clear majority there, but also that any agreement we come to will last.”

He added: “I think what has happened in the past few months, which is very valuable, is trust has built up between the European Union and the UK government in a way that wasn’t there, perhaps, in the past. And that makes me somewhat optimistic that we can come to an agreement on the protocol in the coming months.”

The Taoiseach is set on Friday to meet Keir Starmer, leader of the UK opposition Labour Party, who has arrived in the Swiss Alpine town with a message that he wants to improve the UK’s relationship with the EU after Brexit.

Speaking to reporters earlier in the day, Mr Varadkar said that it “it would be a really good thing” if a breakthrough on the Northern Ireland protocol was achieved by 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement in April.

“But if that’s not possible, that’s not going to cause us to stop. It isn’t an absolute deadline,” he said. “But of course, for lots of reasons, it’d be nice to have an agreement before then.”

Joe Brennan

Joe Brennan

Joe Brennan is Markets Correspondent of The Irish Times