Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Irish PM Tells Boris to 'Tone Down Nationalistic Rhetoric'

Ireland’s prime minister, Leo Varadkar, has told the UK to “tone down” its “nationalistic rhetoric” during forthcoming negotiations with the European Union.

Speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr, Mr Varadkar told viewers: “Let’s not repeat some of the errors that we’ve made in the past two and a half years. Let’s not set such rigid red lines that it makes it hard to come to an agreement, and let’s tone down the kind of nationalistic rhetoric.”

Despite the Taoiseach of the Irish republic telling Britain to “be cautious about the rhetoric”, he was at the centre of a row with his British neighbours to the north over his own inflammatory remarks over the Irish border issue last year.

In January 2019, Mr Varadkar had claimed that the Irish border may need a “police or army presence” in the case of a no-deal Brexit, evoking memories of the Troubles.

Responding, Northern Irish MP Gregory Campbell, of the Democratic Unionist Party, said the Taoiseach should “dial down the rhetoric” which he said was “deeply unhelpful talk”.

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Asked on Sunday whether he regretted calling the UK a “small country”, Mr Varadkar said he had not intended the remark to be petty, but claimed that the UK, which is the world’s sixth-largest economy, was now in a “weaker position” outside of the EU.

Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary Dominic Raab downgraded his insult as merely election campaign bravado, with the Irish going to the polls on Sunday. Mr Raab said: “I think Leo Varadkar is in the midst of a, shall I say, very competitive election in Ireland, and I’m not going to interfere in Irish politics — and I’d probably suggest that he wants to refrain from doing the same.”

On Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson laid out his plans to negotiate a Canada-style free trade agreement with the EU, saying if the bloc does not agree, he is prepared to trade under World Trade Organization rules.

Last month, it was reported that the EU planned to offer the UK a worse trade deal that it did to Canada or Japan, with one EU source telling The Telegraph, in relation to pharmaceuticals: “Why would we rush into providing the UK a competitive edge to have the UK as an authorised testing lab on our shores?”

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The Irish Taoiseach did not say that a Canada deal was impossible, but revealed the EU would not agree to one simply because of the UK’s proximity to the EU.

Saying that Brussels demands the UK abides by “level playing field” rules, he said on The Andrew Marr Show: “It is possible to have a Canada-style free trade agreement with the UK. That means not being in the Single Market, for example… But Canada isn’t the UK. You’re geographically part of the European continent, we share seas, we share airspace, and our economies are very integrated.

“One thing we feel very strongly in the European Union is that if we are going to have tariff-free, quota-free trade with the UK — which is essentially what we have with Canada — then that needs to come with a level playing field because we… would have very strong views on fair competition and state aids” (meaning subsidies provided by the government).

On Monday, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Rishi Sunak said that the UK does not “need” a trade deal with the EU. Asked on Sky News whether the UK needed a deal, Mr Sunak said: “We don’t need to. We have left. There are lots of other ways that countries trade with each other.”

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Victoria Friedman

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