Farage says Varadkar is Ireland's Blair and calls for 'Irexit' debate

Former Ukip leader says Taoiseach a “very good operator”, “a real smoothy”

Nigel Farage was in Dublin to address the Trinity College Historical Society where he revealed he 'had a drink in Strasbourg' just last week with the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Video: Brenda Fitzsimons

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Nigel Farage, the former UK Independence Party leader, told an audience in Dublin that he did not believe there had been an honest debate in Ireland about the country’s future in the European Union.

The leading Brexit proponent, addressing about 200 students at Trinity College Dublin, claimed that there were many Irish people, more than 40 per cent, who would want to leave the EU if the UK left successfully, but there had been “so little debate on this subject”.

He said, the Republic would eventually face a referendum on whether to be “an independent, self-governing democratic nation-state or part of a bigger political union”.

Mr Farage, an MEP, was speaking at “The Hist” debating society, on a visit to Dublin ahead of delivering a keynote address on Saturday at a conference on the possibility of an Irish exit from the EU.

He questioned Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s priorities in the negotiations around the UK’s planned departure from the EU in March 2019.

He described Mr Varadkar as a “very good operator”, “a real smoothy” and – to laughs – “a bit like the Irish Blair really, and that’s a compliment”.

“But it seems to me that in these negotiations he is taking the Brussels side of this against Britain and not the one which is in the most interest of this country,” said Mr Farage.

Punishing

In a blistering critique of the EU’s Brexit strategy, he said Brussels was more intent on punishing the UK for wanting to leave than applying “common logic” to seek a “rounded trade deal” with “a very, very big net buyer from the EU”.

“They are representing the European project because if Britain is seen to leave and to have a good deal, it is the end of the union,” he said.

Mr Farage painted the Brussels negotiators as bloody-minded, extreme EU nationalists “who will stop at nothing to build their United States of Europe”.

“They are making political decisions, not economic decisions,” he said. “I would rather this separation is quick and smooth but they don’t want it.”

He was critical too of London’s handling of the negotiations.

“We have got probably one big problem with Brexit and she is called Theresa May, ” he said.

She picked “this fork in the road” and was trying to “straddle both positions”.

He predicted that the Tory leader would out of office by the next key date in Brexit talks, the European Council meeting on March 22nd and 23rd.

“We are limping towards Brexit very, very slowly,” he said. “My guess is that Brexit will happen. We will leave the European Union, though I suspect not on the terms that I would have liked.”

To avoid a hard Border, he said that the EU should permit the Republic and the UK to continue with their existing trading relationship not just because of economic ties but “because of the political sensitivity of things on the island”.

In a lively question-and-answer session chaired by Irish Times political editor Pat Leahy, Mr Farage took questions on the rise of populism and the right in Europe, and the Leave campaign’s false pledge that £350 million (€397m) of EU cash would be spent on the NHS post-Brexit.

“It wasn’t me; it was Boris,” he said, referring to the UK’s foreign secretary, Boris Johnson.

Asked whether Ireland needed a Eurosceptic party and whether he would campaign for it, Mr Farage said he would help an Irish party “made up of sensible, non-extreme people who just believed in national democracy”.

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