Brexit: Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar warns UK 'all European countries will be small on the world stage'

The Taoiseach was addressing the European Parliament

Jon Stone
Brussels
Wednesday 17 January 2018 12:02 GMT
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Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar addresses the European Parliament

The Irish prime minister has issued a veiled warning about Britain’s future outside the European Union – suggesting that the UK will be one of many “small states” on the global stage.

In a speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg Leo Varadkar said Ireland “respected” the UK’s decision to leave the EU but suggested Theresa May was taking the UK out alone in a world where European countries were dwarfed by their international competitors “even though perhaps they don’t realise it yet”.

“I believe in the Europe of the future, all European countries and all member states will be small states, even though perhaps they don’t realise it yet,” he said.

“You only need to look at the list of the top 60 cities in the world in term of population – only one is in Europe, and it’s getting ready to leave.”

Brexiteers, including Theresa May, however say Britain can prosper outside the EU by making trade deals with other countries – becoming a “great trading nation”. The Independent revealed on Monday night that the EU will demand a veto on all British trade deals with other countries for two years after Brexit.

Mr Varadkar switched between English, French, German, and Irish in a well-received address to MEPs about the future of Europe.

He used the address to call for more “direct democracy” in the bloc, and expressed his support for the idea of EU-wide MEPs elected by all 500 million citizens from no particular member state. This change would mean citizens would discuss the same political issues everywhere from “cafes in Naples and restaurants in Galway”, he argued.

Theresa May agreed a joint text with the EU late last year
Theresa May agreed a joint text with the EU late last year (AFP/Getty)

The European Parliament plans to invite more national leaders to address MEPs about their visions for the future of the continent’s political institutions – though Mr Varadkar is the first.

The Taoiseach also laid out a case for continued closed cooperation between Northern Ireland and the EU after the UK left – hinting that there was a strong mandate for the province to remain closely tied to the Union.

“The majority of people in Northern Ireland voted to remain in the European Union, the majority of the representatives elected to the Northern Ireland assembly want to remain in the customs union and single market, and its likely that the majority of people living in Northern Ireland will remain European citizens after Brexit because of their unique status under the Good Friday agreement which allows them to British citizens, Irish citizens, or both,” he said.

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Elaborating on the future relationship, he added: “For my part I hope the new relationship between the UK and the European Union is as close and deep as possible, but consistent with the need to maintain a customs market.”

He reiterated that they could be no backsliding on the agreement struck between EU and UK negotiators late last year.

Under the joint text, Britain has agreed that there will be no hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. If no specific political solution can be found to the issue during the course of the rest of talks, Britain has committed to keeping its trade regulations aligned with the EU’s to prevent border checks being necessary.

The agreed text also suggests the Northern Ireland assembly government could play a role in keeping the province’s regulations aligned with the Republic’s, and says there will be no border checks between NI and Great Britain.

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