Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has urged Britain to agree to a post-Brexit customs union that will give it a say in future EU trade deals, insisting Europe can offer the UK a better deal than US President Donald Trump.
Mr Varadkar said the post-Brexit option “is the best deal for all of us” and he warned that Mr Trump’s Brexit interest is only because “he believes he will get a better deal if we break up”.
His comments came after the US threatened to impose billions of euro in tariffs on EU goods.
Speaking to reporters before the special EU summit on the Brexit crisis in Brussels last night, Mr Varadkar, unprompted, twice said he is in favour of a customs union-style deal to ultimately end the stand-off. Mr Varadkar said such a deal would be “generous” to Britain by allowing it to have a say in future EU trade deals.
Also, in a pointed reference to Mr Trump, he said a customs union “is the best deal” for all sides in the ongoing Brexit crisis and it would also lessen the need for the backstop.
“One of the things under consideration at the moment is the possibility of the UK staying in a customs union and, while that’s a decision for them, I think that’s something that has real merit.
“The EU has a bigger population than America, has more trade than China, and having the UK stay in a customs union means that we all get a better deal.
“One of the reasons President Trump is unenthusiastic about the EU is because he believes he will get a better deal if we break up. It [the customs union] gets the best deal for all of us,” said Mr Varadkar.
The Taoiseach’s comments were made, unprompted, in separate media engagements with Irish and British journalists, sparking speculation over the reasons behind the remarks.
While no deeper explanation has been given to date for the customs union push, the suggestion mirrors what is being offered by British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn.
The suggestion would also help reduce Britain’s backstop fears and allow London to have a say in future EU trade deals.
However, it would not remove the fact regulatory checks will still be needed on the Irish border, and that Britain will be hamstrung in its own trade deal pursuits.
Mr Varadkar also said Britain had “gotten themselves into a bit of a fix” and that he believes the one-year flexible Brexit delay plan “has merit”, provided strict conditions are attached.
However, Mr Varadkar said “this level of uncertainty” cannot go on “forever”, and that both the EU and Britain must be “flexible” on what happens next.
Speaking at a separate media briefing in Brussels, Labour leader Brendan Howlin said he is also in favour of a lengthy “flex-tension” plan, but he admitted there is a risk it could lead to British “head-bangers” being elected as MEPs.
Asked if he trusts Britain to keep to any year-long gentleman’s agreement not to sabotage the EU, Mr Howlin said there are already MEPs who are not trusted, but that all politicians need to act as adults in difficult times.