Brexit: Varadkar urges UK government to tone down ‘nationalist rhetoric’ ahead of EU trade talks

‘Let’s not set such rigid red lines that it makes it hard to come to an agreement,’ Irish premier warns Johnson

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Sunday 02 February 2020 11:26 GMT
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Varadkar urges UK government to tone down ‘nationalist rhetoric’ ahead of EU trade talks

Leo Varadkar has urged the British government to tone down “nationalist rhetoric” over Brexit, and branded Dominic Raab’s memo to UK diplomats to sit separately from their EU counterparts as “petty”.

The Irish premier also warned Boris Johnson not to set out “rigid red lines” that could hinder the ability to negotiate a trade agreement, after No 10 insisted there would be no alignment or concessions in the talks.

His intervention came just minutes after Mr Raab, the foreign secretary, insisted Mr Varadkar should “refrain” from interfering in UK politics as tensions escalated over the imminent trade negotiations.

Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Mr Varadkar said: “I think looking at your papers today, I would just really have one reflection.

“I think we all learned a lot, certainly I’ve learned a lot from, the past two and a half years dealing with Brexit and dealing with two different British prime ministers.

“One thing I’d say to everyone is let’s not repeat some of the errors that were made in the past two and a half years, let’s not set such rigid red lines that it makes it hard to come to an agreement and let’s tone down the kind of nationalistic rhetoric.

“As is always the case when it comes to negotiations, setting out so boldly such firm red lines actually makes coming to an agreement more difficult, because the other party you are negotiating with doesn’t feel they got a fair deal unless those red lines get turned pink or bent in some way.”

Mr Raab was also pressed over his orders to diplomats – following the UK ending its membership of the EU on Friday – to “sit separately” from their counterparts in Brussels.

In a telegram sent to UK missions, Mr Raab told diplomats to abandon attempts to “seek residual influence” with EU countries and “adopt a stance as a confident independent country instead”.

The Irish premier said in response: “I think it just comes across as being a little bit petty. It’s kind of when you’re in primary school or in secondary school that you get worried about who you sit beside in class.

“Most international forums that I’ve attended, whether it’s UN or other international bodies, you tend to be seated either in alphabetical order or according to protocol.

“So I don’t really know what that’s about but it seems that seems a bit silly, surely everyone should be trying to work with everyone?”

But referencing the Irish elections, Mr Raab told Sky News programme Sophy Ridge on Sunday: “I think Leo Varadkar is in the midst of, shall I say, very competitive election in Ireland and I’m not going to interfere in Irish politics and I’d probably suggest he wants to refrain from doing the same.”

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell also branded No 10’s approach to future EU relations “sabre-rattling”, telling the BBC: “Well it’s a bit puerile, this thing about where ambassadors sit, absolutely puerile”.

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