A US special envoy to the North would be welcome, says Varadkar

Taoiseach praises Washington’s role in Northern Ireland on first day of St Patrick’s trip

‘Certainly if the president is open to wanting a special envoy to Northern Ireland that would be very welcome,’ said Leo Varadkar

‘Certainly if the president is open to wanting a special envoy to Northern Ireland that would be very welcome,’ said Leo Varadkar

 

The Government would welcome the appointment of a US special envoy to Northern Ireland, the Taoiseach has said ahead of his meeting with President Donald Trump on Thursday.

Speaking on the first day of official engagements in Washington on Wednesday, Mr Varadkar said that this week offered an opportunity to talk to US political leaders about Ireland’s position on Brexit. The Taoiseach added that it was also an opportunity to deliver the message that Ireland is a “good and reliable partner for the United States that is certain about its place in the world when perhaps other countries are not and are somewhat in chaos”.

“Certainly if the president is open to wanting a special envoy to Northern Ireland that would be very welcome. We know historically that when the United States has taken an interest in the affairs of Northern Ireland it has helped bring peace . . . so that will certainly be welcome,” he said.

Former secretary of state Rex Tillerson indicated last year that the State Department was preparing to appoint a special envoy. But the idea has fallen off the political agenda in recent months despite calls from Irish-American members of congress for the State Department to appoint an envoy.

Congressman Richard Neal told The Irish Times this week that he intends to raise the issue with Mr Trump during Thursday’s annual St Patrick’s Day lunch on Capitol Hill.

The Taoiseach said that while he was not asking America to “take sides” between the UK and Ireland, he was asking that “no trade deal that is done with the UK should ever undermine the peace process”. He also said that he would prefer that a trade deal between the EU and US is completed before a free agreement between the UK and the United States is signed.

Mr Varadkar will have a packed agenda on Thursday, the centerpiece of which is a meeting with Mr Trump in the Oval Office.

His first engagement of the day is breakfast at the residence of vice-president Mike Pence in Washington which will also be attended by Mr Varadkar’s partner, Matt Barrett. He will later present the US president with the customary bowl of shamrock at a reception in the White House.

The backstop

Regarding Wednesday’s tariff proposal published by London, Mr Varadkar said: “There is a supreme irony in that the proposals produced by the British government today propose to treat Northern Ireland differently to the rest of the United Kingdom when it comes to customs. And you will be aware that many of those who voted against the backstop did so on the basis that they feared Northern Ireland might be treated differently in a few years’ time. The UK proposals will treat Northern Ireland differently in a few weeks’ times in terms of customs, rules and regulations.”

He added that, while the UK may impose tariffs in a no-deal scenario, the European Union will also apply a common external tariff to goods exported from the United Kingdom. “This will have a serious impact on the British economy and the economy of Northern Ireland.”

He said that “this can all be avoided” by having a customs union. “That is why the customs union was invented in the first place,” he said, urging the UK to reconsider a request for a customs union with the EU.