Coming days will be defining period for Varadkar and Irish-UK relations
HAVING just about weathered a political storm at home, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is facing into a tense 10 days that have the potential to not only define his premiership but shape the relationship between Ireland and the UK for decades to come.
Varadkar – who finds himself severely weakened politically thanks to his handling of the McCabe email affair – badly needs a win and success for Ireland in next week’s crunch Brexit talks could help him salvage his authority after what has been a hugely damaging month.
In recent week’s the Government has come in for severe criticism – not just over the McCabe-Fitzgerald email scandal but also its handling of the housing crisis, justice and health.
Much of this criticism appears warranted but amidst the raft of scandals it should be acknowledged that the Government has handled the Brexit border negotiations with considerable skill.
There were well-founded fears that the border would become a side issue that Europe’s leaders would be willing to sacrifice in order to secure an amicable divorce settlement with the UK.
Thanks to the efforts of the Government – adeptly led by Simon Coveney who has acquitted himself well since taking on the Foreign Affairs portfolio – the border issue has become central to the Brexit negotiations.
Ireland has secured strong backing from our EU partners and as a result we finds ourselves in arguably our strongest position ever going into negotiations with the British establishment.
Anyone who doubts how strong Ireland’s position is should take a look at the pro-Brexit media in the UK.
Seemingly unwilling to admit or acknowledge that the Republic of Ireland is an independent nation, many of these opinion outlets are aghast that the Irish would have the temerity to challenge their Imperial betters.
This outrage masks a deep fear that, for once, Ireland has the power and influence to dictate policy to Britain. It is a remarkable self-inflicted turnaround for the jingoistic Brexiteers who still cling to the misguided notion that Britain remains an Imperial power.
The British establishment’s lack of interest in Ireland and the condescension they have displayed towards our nation looks set to rebound on the Brexiteers in spectacular fashion.
This, of course, is all provided that our EU partners keep their word and back Ireland’s position as they have promised. That remains to be seen but, at present, a betrayal appears unlikely.
Even if the EU was to break its pledge on backing Ireland, Mr Varadkar still has the nuclear option of a veto up his sleeve.
As we have seen very recently, a week is a very long time in politics. However, as things stand, Ireland holds a very strong hand as Britain and the EU strive to reach phase two of the Brexit divorce.
The Government has, thus far, managed the Brexit talks with great skill in the face of tremendous uncertainty. The talks are Ireland’s to lose and we may be on course to witness the most dramatic change in Anglo Irish relations for generations.
We truly are living in interesting times.