Varadkar says mistakes are made on all sides in handling Brexit

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said mistakes were made on all sides in handling Brexit, but promised to be “flexible and reasonable” in trying to resolve issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol.

He acknowledged that the post-Brexit protocol was “too strict” and said he understood trade unionists’ concerns that the deal made them feel less British.

In response, DUP Leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said a “fundamental change of attitude” is needed in UK-EU negotiations on the protocol to reach a long-standing solution.

Mr. Varadkar, who became Taoiseach for the second time in December, has become deeply unpopular among some of the trade unionists and loyalists who claim to have been an influential figure in the creation of contentious protocol.

His name and image have recently been featured in menacing graffiti and posters in loyal parts of Northern Ireland.

Despite this, he stressed that he looks forward to traveling to the region earlier this year.

When asked about the negative perception towards him within unionism, Taoiseach said, “I’m sure we all made mistakes in handling Brexit.

“There was no roadmap, no guidance, it wasn’t what we expected it to be, and we all did our best to deal with it.”

“Again, I look forward to traveling to Northern Ireland early in the new year, meeting with all parties and reaching out to all parties and all communities to find a solution,” he said at a pre-Christmas media briefing.

“Something I’ve said in the past is that when we designed the protocol, when it was initially negotiated, maybe it was a little too rigid.

“And we found that it worked without the protocol being fully implemented.

“This is why I think there is room for flexibility and change, and we are open and ready for that, and I know from my conversation with (European Commission) President (Ursula) von der Leyen and (EC vice-president) Maros Sefcovic, that is their position as well.

“So, we are ready to show flexibility and make concessions. We want an agreement.

“And you know, I’ve talked to a lot of people in Northern Ireland over the years with a trade unionist background.

“I understand what they are thinking about the protocol. They think it has shrunk their place in the Union, created barriers between Britain and Northern Ireland that did not exist before.


An anti-Northern Ireland Protocol sign near Larne Harbor (Liam McBurney/PA)

“And I understand and understand that. But this also applies to Brexit.

“Brexit was imposed on Northern Ireland without inter-communal consent, without the support of the majority of the people in Northern Ireland, and one of the good things about the European Union is that it has reduced the barriers and borders between north and south, and this is a great reassurance, especially for people from a nationalist background. .

“So I understand that there are two sides to this story.

“Many people who are Unionists think that protocol sets them apart from Great Britain.

“Many people with a nationalist background in Northern Ireland feel that this sets them apart from the rest of Ireland.

“So this story has two sides.”

Mr Varadkar said Brexit is a reality that cannot be reversed.

“I accept that – I regret it but I admit it – and everything we’ve done since then, be it firewall or protocol, was just an attempt to come to terms with this reality and avoid a strict border on our island. It is also really important for me to ensure that it does not decrease in any way, and at the same time the protection of the European Single Market and these are my definitive red line.

“The holdback, protocol, were only mechanisms used to achieve these goals, and as long as we can achieve those goals, I will be as flexible and reasonable as possible.”


Power sharing in Stormont is currently in flux due to the DUP boycott to protest the Northern Ireland Protocol (Liam McBurney/PA)

Sir Jeffrey welcomed Mr Varadkar’s comments, saying that the protocol is “not endorsed, sponsored and will not be endorsed by trade unionists”.

“It was a mistake of those who wrote a treaty that damaged Northern Ireland’s constitutional and economic position within the UK,” he said.

“While Mr Varadkar’s comments suggest he now accepts the political reality in Northern Ireland, we need to see a radical change of attitude in the negotiations if we are to see a lasting result.”

Power sharing in Northern Ireland is currently in flux as the DUP boycotts Stormont institutions in protest of protocol.

The region’s largest unionist party has insisted it will not return to the deposed government unless fundamental changes are made to trade arrangements that create economic barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

The EU and the UK are participating in the negotiations to reduce the impact of the protocol. It is not yet clear whether any agreement signed between London and Brussels will be enough to persuade the DUP to unblock power-sharing.

The UK and Irish Governments would like to see devolution return before the landmark 25th anniversary of Northern Ireland’s Good Friday peace deal in April.

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