Varadkar warns states over striking deals with Britain ‘until you’re confident they keep promises’

Tánaiste says he hopes Johnson’s former adviser was speaking for himself and not British government in tweets

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar TD pictured on Budget Day this week. Photograph: Julien Behal

Tánaiste and Minister for Enterprise, Trade and Employment Leo Varadkar TD pictured on Budget Day this week. Photograph: Julien Behal

 

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has described as “alarming” comments made by British prime minister Boris Johnson’s former chief adviser Dominic Cummings suggesting the British government signed the Northern Ireland protocol knowing it would not honour it.

Mr Varadkar said the comments by Mr Cummings, the British prime minister’s main adviser until November last year, indicated the British government as an administration “acted in bad faith” and that was something that needed to be heard around the world as Britain attempts to strike post-Brexit trade deals with other countries.

He was responding to a series of posts published on Twitter by Mr Cummings who was sacked by Mr Johnson in November 2020.

In one Tweet Mr Cummings wrote: “Shd we generally stick to deals? Of course. Sometimes break them? Of course. Just like the EU, US, China and every other state does. International diplomacy cannot be judged by the standards of a student duel, and lawyers are hired help not the masters.”

Mr Varadkar said he hoped Mr Cummings was speaking for himself and not for the British government.

'Alarming'

“Those comments are very alarming because that would indicate that this is a government, an administration, that acted in bad faith and that message needs to be heard around the world,” he told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

“If the British government doesn’t honour its agreements, it doesn’t adhere to treaties it signs, that must apply to everyone else too.”

He said the British administration was currently going around the world trying to negotiate new trade agreements.

“Surely the message must go out to all countries around the world that this is a British government that doesn’t necessarily keep its word and doesn’t necessarily honour the agreements it makes.

“And you shouldn’t make any agreements with them until such time as you’re confident that they keep their promises, and honour things, for example, like the protocol,” he said.

Northern Ireland remains under some EU rules after the UK left the EU to prevent a hard border re-emerging on the island of Ireland.

The European Commission considers the role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) as a final arbiter on trade disputes between the EU and UK as a red line issue, while the UK government wants the oversight role over Northern Ireland post-Brexit trade rules removed from the EU’s highest court.

In another post Mr Cummings wrote he did not mean Mr Johnson was lying in the general election of 2019 about the deal with the EU.

“[He] never had a scoobydoo [clue] what the deal he signed meant. He never understood what leaving the Customs Union meant until [November 2020]. In [January 2020] he was babbling ‘Id never have signed it if Id understood it’ (but that WAS a lie).”

He also said: “For all the cant about international law...states break it every week...the idea it’s the epitome of morality is low grade student politics pushed by lawyers/officials to constrain politics they oppose.”

'Chill'

Mr Cummings said the British government should focus on solving problems “& chill viz “i/n law” viz NI”.

Meanwhile, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said that the EU has contingency plans if the British government decides it wants to collapse the protocol.

Mr Coveney was speaking ahead of the publication of proposals by the EU to amend the protocol. This would be “a major intervention” by the EU and was “a genuine and honest effort to provide answers” and to address the concerns of some Unionists and some in the Northern Ireland business community about supply chain issues.

“This is a major effort by the EU to address real problems,” he told RTÉ Radio One’s News at One programme.

Four different papers would be published today addressing issues around medicines, chilled meats, customs along with consultancy and oversight, said Mr Coveney.

The EU was “effectively willing to change EU law to solve this problem” to ensure there would be no barrier to medicines from the UK entering Northern Ireland.

There would also be proposals to allow the transport of UK chilled meats into Northern Ireland once they were properly labelled and there was data to prove the goods were staying in the North.

When asked about UK comments on the European Court of Justice, Mr Coveney said that there was confusion why the UK had decided “to make this the issue this week”.

Very few people in Northern Ireland were talking about the European Court of Justice, he said, they were more interested in the removal of barriers to trade and that was what “the EU had been responding to”.

Mr Coveney said that he did not know how the EU could change an international treaty.

Redline

If this was a redline issue why had the UK government signed up to the Withdrawal Agreement, he asked. All that was being proposed by the EU was that the rules of the Single Market would be adjudicated by the European Court of Justice “as a last resort”.

The EU had indicated that the paper being launched today was not “the last word” and there would be a consultative process. “What we have is a significant initiative.”

Mr Coveney said there needed to be a focus on the positive, “we are talking about solutions to problems, not creating more problems. We need to create a positive environment for negotiations”.

The past week had been frustrating, he added. The focus of the EU side “is to be calm”.

Mr Coveney said he would appeal to people to avoid rancour and “move away from that type of negativity”.