Leo Varadkar’s U-turn marks ‘huge’ shift of attitude over Brexit

Northern Ireland: Leo Varadkar discusses protocol row

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Leo Varadkar’s conciliatory remarks abut the Northern Ireland Protocol represent a huge ‘U-turn’ – and change of attitude in Dublin when it comes to Brexit, a former Irish diplomat has said The former Taoiseach, who is scheduled to return as leader next month, raised eyebrows on Wednesday with his admission the Protocol, designed to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland, was “a “little too strict”.

Critics of the mechanism, agreed between the UK and the European Union, argue it has instead resulted in a border down the Irish Sea, driving a wedge between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

Mr Varadkar’s remarks are surprising given he has a track record of making uncompromising statements about Brexit and was seen to be very closely aligned with Brussels on the issue in the aftermath of the 2016 referendum.

Referring to Ireland’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, Ray Bassett, Ireland’s former Ambassador to Canada, Jamaica and the Bahamas, told Express.co.uk: “There has been a huge change of attitude in Dublin from the days when Varadkar and Coveney were making bellicose speech and threatening the British Government.

“To even admit that the Protocol was a ‘bit too strict’ is a far cry from the days when Varadkar said nothing could be changed in it.”

Mr Bassett said it was “interesting” that Irish media had so far been “largely silent on this big u-turn”.

He added: “I just did an interview on the Irish language station TG4 mentioning the change in attitude in Dublin.”

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Citing the Fianna Fail leader Mr Varadkar is due to replace next month, Mr Bassett said: “The change of Taoiseach from Varadkar to Micheal Martin marked the first softening of the Irish position. Varadkar is now following the lead of Martin.

“The mood music on both sides have greatly improved with Steve Baker making very conciliatory sounds on the UK side.

“Both sides want a deal with a war raging in Europe and all countries facing a cost of living crisis.

“Up to recently both the EU and the UK have adopted fairly rigid positions and seemed to be more interested in overcoming the other side than getting a compromise.

“If Dublin and London agree on a way forward, Washington will back it and Brussels would have little option but to accept it.”

The European Commission earlier this week confirmed the EU and UK will meet for technical level talks aimed at resolving the disputes over the Protocol.

Speaking in Dublin, Mr Varadkar said: “We should not forget that the protocol is working. It was designed to prevent a hard border between north and south, and there is no hard border between north and south.

“It was designed to protect the integrity of the single market and it has, and also the Northern Ireland economy is outperforming the rest of the UK economically.

“But one thing that I would concede is that perhaps the Protocol, as it was originally designed, was a little too strict.”

Mr Coveney, speaking after a meeting with UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly at the Irish embassy in London yesterday, said: “It is clear because of the compromises that have come from the EU in recent months that they are willing to look at more flexibility and support a lot more flexibility in terms of how the protocol is implemented than was the position at the start. So, Leo is right on that.

He added: “Maros Sefcovic, who’s the key negotiator on the EU side, has already published a number of papers to show that the EU is willing to be a lot more flexible. So, Leo was just stating a fact.”

Meanwhile, speaking in Prague,Mr Martin said: I think I would not understate the difficulties that are there.

“The European Union and the UK Government are beginning the process. I think we should allow space to see what emerges from that.”

Asked about the warm reception UK Prime Minister Liz Truss received at the European summit in Prague yesterday, Mr Martin added: “The UK Government is determined to make sure that there’s a constructive relationship with the European Union, and with key member states, not least because of the very big geopolitical issues facing us.”

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