Taoiseach dismisses right-wing UK press attacks pointing out Irish critics call him a Tory
The UK’s Brexiteers are using the country’s right-wing red tops, or tabloids, to attack Ireland in an anti-Irish campaign reminiscent of the propaganda campaigns of the 1970s and 80s.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar laughed off a vicious personal attack in The Sun last weekend which came just a week after the paper claimed Ireland’s centre-right, anti Sinn Fein party of government Fine Gael was being told what to do by Gerry Adams.
The latest Sun attack followed Ireland’s hard-line position that either Northern Ireland stays in the Single Market and Customs Union after Brexit. At a summit of EU leaders at the weekend in the Swedish city of Gothenburg Mr Varadkar said Brexit trade deal talks should not proceed until there is a firm commitment to preventing a “hard” Irish border.
He said the assurance must be written down before the talks move on: “Before we move to phase two talks on trade, we want taken off the table any suggestion that there will be a physical border.”
Prime Minister Theresa May’s spokesperson said both leaders had agreed to work together to find solutions ensuring there is “no return to the borders of the past”.
The Sun responded by calling Mr Varadkar a ‘Brexit Buffoon’ who should ‘shut his gob on Brexit and grow up’.
It said the 38-year-old Fine Gael leader is ‘naive’ and disrespecting 17.4 million UK voters and an obstinate man increasingly out of his depth.
“Leo Varadkar may not like Brexit. So what? He needs to accept it’s happening. “Yet Varadkar’s rookie diplomacy, puerile insults and threats to veto trade negotiations are bringing it ever closer.
“We can only assume his arrogance stems from a delusion that he can singlehandedly stop Brexit.”
Mr. Varadkar said he had read the editorial in question: “I think it’s the second or third time that the Tory press have had a go at me – which is interesting because, here in Ireland, the left and others accuse me of being a Tory.
“I guess I treat all that commentary with the respect it deserves – which isn’t very much.”
Ireland’s Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin said it was “ignorant, bullying and ageist” and “deliberately offensive and will contribute nothing to resolving the issues our countries face”.
“It reverts to the bad old days when the UK thought it could tell Ireland what to do, a view no longer held by the vast majority of the British people.
“This is an example of what those who support the European Union have been facing in the UK for decades.
“The Taoiseach is representing the interests of Irish citizens and indeed many UK citizens living in Northern Ireland. He is not just entitled to do so, he is obliged to do so.
“And while he continues to do so he will have the support of all the Irish people.”
The attack followed the first visit to Dublin by Britain’s Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, the leader of the Brexit camp in Prime Minister Theresa May’s Cabinet. Onlookers were surprised at the lack of preparation by Mr Johnson and lack of knowledge about Ireland’s concerns about the Border after Brexit.
Mr Johnson said it was necessary to move on to the second stage of negotiations with haste, where issues raised by Mr Coveney would be thrashed out.
“Now is the time to make haste on that front,” he said.
Asked to offer up even a hypothetical vision of how a ‘frictionless border’ might work, Mr Johnson said the British government’s view “is you can only really crack the problem” in the second phase of the talks.
The Foreign Secretary also said he was unaware that Ireland supports a much longer transitional period than is being suggested by Britain. He said the “maximum reassurance” for companies and people can be provided “in a much shorter timescale” than the four to five years being suggested by Dublin.
Ireland’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said: “Yes, we all want to move onto phase two of the Brexit negotiations, but we are not in a place right now that allows us to do that.”
He said there was “a sense of jumping into the dark” for Ireland, as the future operation of its border with Northern Ireland had not been agreed.
“We are in the heat of the negotiations right now and, of course, we want to move on to the negotiations on trade, but there are issues that need more clarity,” he said. “This is a very fundamental change in the relationship between Ireland and Britain and Britain and the EU and it will require significant adjustment.
“The appropriate timetable is closer to four or five years than it is to two.
“We simply don’t see how we can avoid border infrastructure.
“Once standards change it creates differences between the two jurisdictions and a different rule book.
“When you have a different rule book you are starting to go down the route of having to have checks.”
Asked whether the government was constrained by its confidence and supply arrangement with the Democratic Unionist Party at Westminster Mr Johnson said that was “not at all an issue”.
Meanwhile, former Chancellor, Health Secretary, Home Secretary and Justice Secretary Ken Clarke said the UK remaining in the single market and customs union is vital for peace and stability in Northern Ireland. It is the obvious solution as no-one wants physical border controls, he told BBC Northern Ireland.
“The border problem in Northern Ireland, the supreme importance of keeping the settlement in place, retaining peace in Northern Ireland is probably the single biggest, most important reason why it would be preferable for the United Kingdom as a whole to stay in the single market and the customs union.
“If the Brexiteers, these right-wing nationalists, won’t allow us to do that then the best solution after that, I agree with the Taoiseach actually, is to have a border down the Irish Sea.”
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