Brexit advocates ‘chasing unicorns’, says Irish premier

Irish premier Leo Varadkar has said people who advocated for Brexit have been “chasing unicorns” for a “very long time”.

The Taoiseach made the comments to media in the US on Wednesday while MPs at Westminster prepared to vote on whether they are prepared for the UK to leave the European Union without a deal.

As part of his annual St Patrick’s Day visit, Mr Varadkar attended a lunch at the US Chamber of Commerce in Washington DC.

Leo Varadkar visit to US – Day 1
Leo Varadkar arrives at the US Chamber of Commerce (Brian Lawless/PA)

“As we head into the next few weeks it should be blatantly obvious that unicorns only exist in fairytales,” he told media at the event.

“I would say to people who advocated Brexit – is this really what they wanted? Protectionism, borders, tariffs, restrictions on trade.

“Is this really what Brexit was all about? And for those who voted against the Withdrawal Agreement on the basis that they feared that Northern Ireland would be treated differently as a result of the backstop, it must be evident to them now that it’s the UK Government’s intention to treat Northern Ireland differently.”

Leo Varadkar visit to US – Day 1
Leo Varadkar speaks to delegates (Brian Lawless/PA)

Addressing the UK’s tariff proposals in the event of a no-deal Brexit, Mr Varadkar said Northern Ireland will become a back door to the European single market.

“I don’t think the UK’s proposals will be workable for very long. They propose to treat Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the UK,” he said.

“Northern Ireland will become a back door to the European single market and I think that in a matter of months that will lead to the need for checks at Northern Ireland’s ports.

“So those that opposed the agreement may find that something very akin to the backstop is applied by the UK Government in a few weeks’ time.”

(PA Graphics)

Mr Varadkar also said that in the event of a no-deal Brexit the European customs code will apply to goods exported from the UK to the EU.

“That will obviously have a severe impact on the UK economy and the Northern Ireland economy in particular.

“Westminster can take the no deal off the table this evening, and if they do so then there is the potential to look at alternatives, for example the UK staying in the customs union.”

Mr Varadkar added that Ireland has been preparing for a no-deal Brexit scenario for a long time.

“We are well placed to deal with any shock that may arise from a no-deal (Brexit),” he added.

“The fact that we have a budget surplus means that we can borrow if we have to to support our economy.”

The Taoiseach started his programme of engagements on Wednesday at the US Chamber of Commerce with Enterprise Ireland and Science Foundation Ireland.

Irish businesses employ 100000 people in the US and Ireland is the ninth largest source of foreign direct investment here. I’m meeting some of these Irish companies who are bringing jobs and investment here in Washington today with

— Leo Varadkar (@campaignforleo) March 13, 2019

He also attended a round table meeting with Enterprise Ireland chief executive Julie Sinnamon and senior Irish executives, some of whom will be announcing new investments in the US.

There are more than 520 Irish companies operating at 954 locations across all 50 US states, employing more than 100,000 American workers.

The US Bureau of Economic Analysis calculated the value of Irish direct investment in the US at 146.6 billion dollars (£110 billion/129 billion euro) in 2017, ranking Ireland as the ninth largest source of foreign direct investment.