UK facing decades of economic decline, Varadkar warns

New British PM, be it Johnson or Hunt, will have ‘reality check’ on taking office

Britain will face decades of economic decline after Brexit, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has predicted, adding that the UK is "struggling to cope" with its reduced status on the world stage.

Mr Varadkar said that as a country which had left the British empire, Ireland should try to understand better the nationalist motivation of Brexit. However, he said that as a result of leaving the EU, the UK would "fall into relative economic decline for many decades, probably be overtaken by France again. Slowly over time, it'll be overtaken by lots of countries in Asia."

He added: “I think that one of the difficulties for Britain is that they’re struggling to cope with the fact that as a country and an economy they’re not as important in the world as they used to be.”

Mr Varadkar also told Newstalk radio on Friday the new British prime minister, whether it is Boris Johnson or Jeremy Hunt, would face a "reality check" on Brexit when he took office.


Irish officials stressed that while they expected early contacts with the new leader once he takes office later this month, any negotiations on the EU-UK relationship would take place with the EU, not between London and Dublin.

Senior officials said they expected that any new prime minister – the overwhelming favourite is Mr Johnson, but both candidates have pledged to leave the EU by October 31st, with or without a deal – could take a different view when confronted with the responsibilities of office.

Domestic hurdles

Some senior Irish Government sources say they believe Mr Johnson would not leave without a deal. Other sources, citing contacts in London, believe that he will face significant domestic hurdles to do so.

On Friday, British business secretary Greg Clark urged Tory MPs to block a no-deal Brexit, warning that such an outcome would cost "many thousands of jobs".

Documents published by the Irish Government and the Northern Ireland civil service this week warned that a no-deal could cost 50,000 jobs in the Republic and at least 40,000 in the North.

Meanwhile, officials continue to prepare for a no-deal, with some Government sources expressing satisfaction that public expectations had been nudged towards accepting the idea that single market rules would require some form of checks on goods entering the Republic from the UK after a no-deal.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney and the Taoiseach suggested this week that some checks may be necessary after a no-deal Brexit, but both say checks will not take place along the Border and no infrastructure will be put in place there.

Port checks

On Friday, Mr Varadkar suggested that checks on live animals and products could be carried out at ports in Northern Ireland and the Republic if the British government and the EU agreed to treat the island of Ireland as a single zone for agricultural and food safety rules after Brexit.

For this to happen, he said, London would have to accept that the North was treated differently to the rest of the UK.

Such a move would eliminate the need for checks on animals and animal products at the Border. However, it would have to be negotiated with London and is likely to be opposed by the DUP.

Meanwhile, Conservative MP and former UK attorney general Dominic Grieve has said a “crash-out Brexit” would make a political crisis over the future status of Northern Ireland “more likely”.

Speaking on a visit to Dublin, Mr Grieve told reporters the status of the North remaining within the UK under the Belfast Agreement “would be thrown into jeopardy” by a no-deal Brexit.

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times