Ireland: Varadkar 'not optimistic' about new UK Prime Minister
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Leo Varadkar’s return as Irish Taoiseach will be greeted with “unease” in London as a result of the bullish Brexit stance he adopted the last time he was in the top job, an ex-diplomat has said. Ray Bassett was speaking on the day Fine Gael leader Mr Varadkar was reinstalled as Ireland’s leader, swapping roles with Fianna Fail counterpart Micheal Martin in line with a deal struck between the two coalition partners two years ago.
The former ambassador to Canada, Jamaica and the Bahamas told Express.co.uk: “There is very little cheer around for Varadkar’s return.
“Martin is widely regarded as having brought a degree of competence and calmness to the position and saw his own personal popularity grow, albeit from a low base.”
Mr Martin had made good relations with London a “key element” of his time as head of the Irish Government, Mr Bassett stressed.
He explained: “He refrained from the type of verbal aggression that was associated with Varadkar and his deputy Foreign Minister Simon Coveney.
“He counselled the European Union to be more accommodating to London’s concern. Martin also reached out to Unionism in the North.”
There was likely to be “some disappointment” in both Westminster and in Unionist circles at the prospect of dealing with the 44-year-old former GP once again, Mr Bassett suggested.
Referring to the mechanism agreed between the UK and the EU with the aim of preventing a post-Brexit hard border on the island of Ireland, he said: “There is unease that Varadkar, who is an ardent Europhile, will seek to revert to a more hawkish stance on the Northern Ireland Protocol.
“Although it is doubtful if the same appetite exists in Brussels for a return to the Michel Barnier-style confrontation with the British Government.
“With a war raging in Ukraine and a constructive partner in PM Sunak, Brussels is very anxious for a deal with the UK on the outstanding issues.
“Varadkar may find he has little support for a return to his hard line stances of the past.”
Mr Varadkar’s latest tenure in office will be dominated by the forthcoming election, due in just over two years, Mr Bassett pointed out.
He added: “The possibility of a Sinn Fein-led administration, post that election, will haunt many in the establishment and Varadkar will concentrate his policies and his efforts on discrediting that party.
“Varadkar will also be concerned that the third member of the present coalition, the Green party, could be facing an electoral wipeout in that election and will seek to assert itself in the remaining lifetime of this Parliament, hence bringing instability.
“Varadkar faces a difficult two years ahead.”
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Northern Ireland: Leo Varadkar discusses protocol row
Irish parliamentarians in the Dail voted 87 to 62 to support his appointment in a special sitting yesterday.
Mr Varadkar was officially confirmed as premier at an audience with the President of Ireland Michael D Higgins at his residence in Dublin shortly afterwards.
After receiving the seal of office from the president, Mr Varadkar said: “I’m honoured and privileged to have the opportunity to serve again. And I look forward to getting down to the hard work in the next few hours.
“As Taoiseach my mission will be to build on the achievement of 100 years ago, and to work on what needs to be done for this generation and the next,” he said.
“Providing hope and housing, economic opportunities and a fair start for all.
“And so I accept this nomination by the Dail with humility and resolve, with a burning desire to make good the promise of 100 years ago and to provide new hope and new opportunities for all of our citizens.”
During his speech, he also emphasised the need to secure a resolution to the impasse over Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol and working to restore powersharing at Stormont.
He said: “I am thinking of the Good Friday Agreement of nearly 25 years ago
“Fundamental elements of that Agreement – the Assembly and the Executive – are still suspended.
“Dreams of a better future are not built on stalemate and the status quo. I want to work with all parties in this House and in Northern Ireland, as well as with the British Government and our partners in the European Union, to make progress on the Protocol and restore the institutions of the Agreement.”
After his return was confirmed, Mr Barnier tweeted: “Congratulations Leo Varadkar on your appointment as Taoiseach – wishing you all the best on the road ahead!
“Thank you for your trust during the Brexit negotiations.”
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