Varadkar ‘trying to sway UK public opinion’ on Brexit

Language from the Irish Government has become much tougher in recent weeks

The Government’s sharper tone on Brexit  has led to objections from those in favour of leaving the EU, such as the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

The Government’s sharper tone on Brexit has led to objections from those in favour of leaving the EU, such as the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s controversial interventions on how Britain might withdraw from the European Union were designed to assist those in the UK pushing for a softer Brexit.

Senior Government figures have claimed one of the considerations in the Taoiseach making his statements was to influence opinion in Britain, where there is ongoing debate over the shape of Brexit.

The language from the Government has become much tougher in recent weeks, which pro-Brexit UK figures have put down to Mr Varadkar’s ascension to the office of Taoiseach and Simon Coveney taking over as Minister for Foreign Affairs.

However, the sharper tone has led to objections from those in favour of Brexit, such as the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which is propping up the minority Conservative government in London in a confidence and supply deal.

Fianna Fáil has also accused the Government of “clumsy diplomacy”.

Mr Varadkar previously said Dublin was “not going to design a border for the Brexiteers”, which led DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson to describe some of the Taoiseach’s statements as “intemperate”, “inconsistent” and “incoherent”.

Former British government Brexit minister David Jones also said the change of tone has been “regrettable”.

Public debate

Such figures are also likely to be critical of moves from Dublin to influence public debate in the UK even though the Irish Government strongly advocated for Britain to remain in the EU.

A number of Government sources have claimed that one of the main purposes of Mr Varadkar’s interventions has been to help shape opinion in Britain following the UK general election.

The election, which saw the Conservatives lose seats and their majority, was seen as a rejection of Theresa May’s vision for a so-called “hard Brexit”.

It has led to increased debate within Mrs May’s cabinet over how to approach Brexit, with figures such as chancellor Philip Hammond pushing for a softer approach.

There is also continuing debate within the opposition Labour Party, which will have significant influence in the UK parliament.

“There is a view that there is much wider discussion going on now,” a well-placed Irish Government source said, adding that it was no longer just Mrs May’s vision holding sway.

“I think he [Mr Varadkar] was tapping into that. The debate over there has moved on. You can see the business community getting involved now.”

Hugely volatile

It is claimed the Irish position has not changed since Mr Varadkar took over, but it is acknowledged the tone has.

Another source said that British political debate was hugely volatile, and could swing a number of ways as the Brexit talks continued.

The recent statements from the Irish Government have attracted attention in Britain.

Mr Varadkar has suggested that the UK and the EU could enter into a customs agreement, similar to the one with Turkey. He also suggested the UK could rejoin the European Free Trade Association, a group which comprises countries such as Norway, Switzerland, Liechtenstein and Iceland, which are outside the EU but have some access to the Single Market.