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Leo Varadkar tells Boris Johnson to 'tone down nationalistic rhetoric' as PM vows 'no alignment' with EU

4 min read

Leo Varadkar has urged Boris Johnson to "tone down the nationalistic rhetoric" as the Prime Minister prepares to make a speech calling for "no alignment" with the European Union after Brexit.

The Irish premier warned his UK counterpart against setting "rigid red lines" as the two sides get ready to kick off talks on a future trading relationship now that Britain has left the EU.

And he took aim at a "petty" leaked order for British diplomats to "sit separately" from their EU counterparts at international summits.

Mr Johnson is expected to flesh out his plans for a post-Brexit relationship with Brussels in a speech on Monday.

Amid reports of anger in Number 10 at what the Government sees as a shifting stance from European capitals, the Prime Minister will make clear that he is prepared to accept customs checks at Britain's borders if he cannot secure his preferred agreement with the EU.

Addressing business leaders and diplomats in London, Mr Johnson will reportedly call for the UK to be treated as an "equal" in the talks and demand "no alignment, no jurisdiction of the European courts, and no concessions".

But Mr Varadkar told the BBC that the Prime Minister's words risked making it harder to strike an agreement.

"I've learned a lot from the past two and a half years dealing with Brexit and dealing with two different British prime ministers," the Taoiseach said.

"And 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."


EU leaders have already indicated that tariff-free access to its market will require the UK to sign up to key rules and standards. 

Brussels also wants the UK to allow the European Court of Justice to play a part in settling trade disputes between the two sides - a move that will infuriate Conservative Brexiteers.

Mr Varadkar said: "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're negotiating with doesn't feel they've got a fair deal unless those red lines get turned pink or bent in some way."

Urging Mr Johnson to "be cautious about the rhetoric", Mr Varadkar said: "We all want the UK and the European Union to have a close relationship, a political relationship, security relationship, trading relationship... So let's start off on a better footing than maybe was the case after the referendum."

The Irish premier also took aim at Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab over a leaked memo to diplomats urging them to physically distance themselves from their European equivalents at key summits.

In a telegram sent to UK overseas missions - seen by The Sunday Times - the Cabinet minister told diplomats to to "sit separately" and  "adopt a stance as a confident independent country" instead.

But Mr Varadkar likened the move to "primary school" behaviour.

He said: "I think it just comes 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 a bit silly. Surely everyone should be trying to work with everyone."

The jibe came just minutes after Mr Raab urged the Taoiseach to keep out of British politics.

Apearing on Sky's Sophy Ridge, the Foreign Secretary said: "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."

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