Leo Varadkar rejects former diplomat advice on leaving EU

Ray Bassett’s expertise not within EU and he must be called out, says Prof Brigid Laffan

Former Irish ambassador to Canada Ray Bassett: suggested Ireland could remain with the UK in a customs and free trade area, while negotiating terms with the remaining 26 EU members.  Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

Former Irish ambassador to Canada Ray Bassett: suggested Ireland could remain with the UK in a customs and free trade area, while negotiating terms with the remaining 26 EU members. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has rejected claims by a former diplomat that Ireland should seriously consider leaving the EU, saying the State must remain at the heart of Europe.

In a paper drawn up for a British think tank, former Irish ambassador to Canada Ray Bassett suggested Ireland could opt to remain with the UK in a customs and free trade area, while negotiating trade and investment terms with the remaining 26 European Union members.

The report, on behalf of think tank Policy Exchange, has argued that access to the single market was not necessarily synonymous with EU membership.

“The type of deal that Ireland’s interests requires, however, including free trade with the UK, is directly in contradiction with the union negotiators’ mandate that anything relating to Ireland and her border which emerges from the Brexit negotiations, must ‘maintain the integrity the union’s legal order’,” Mr Bassett’s report argues.

However, Mr Varadkar said the EU “is a common European home that we helped to build and we’re going to stay where we belong, at the heart of it”.

Retired senior diplomat Noel Dorr said on Monday he did not agree with the contention that Ireland should leave the EU.

Referring to the argument that Ireland should be in a position to negotiate on its own behalf, and not as one of the 27 states, Mr Dorr said: “If you think of it, we are there with the 27 and our position has been at the front and centre, as it was fully accepted by [other EU states].

“In general also we are in a stronger position now than going in [to negotiations] on our own,” he said.

‘English problem’

The chairman of the Institute for International and European Affairs, Ruairí Quinn, said: “Brexit is an English problem being dealt with by English politicians who have not expressed the slightest interest in the rest of the UK, let alone Ireland.

“The unilateral decision to cancel the inshore fisheries agreement is not conducive to trusting and steady engagement with our nearest neighbour.”

Prof Brigid Laffan, of the Schumann Centre in Florence, said Mr Bassett’s expertise as a diplomat was not in the EU and he needed to be “called out” on his comments.

“The only reason we are negotiating as part of the EU27 is because it was the core judgment of the Government and parliament and civil society that it is in Ireland’s interest to do so. We are not not doing it to be good EU citizens. We are doing it in our own long-term interest,” she said.

“I have never seen, and I have been over 30 years in this area, such a strong campaign at a political and diplomatic level by a government. They have almost overdelivered. I regard what he has said as the Farage line on the EU. It is deeply Eurosceptic.”