Varadkar delivers Herculean 'kick in the balls' as Johnson left embarrassed

Varadkar delivers Herculean 'kick in the balls' as Johnson left embarrassed
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire

It was quite the kick in the balls.

It takes some effort to embarrass your guest, the Prime Minister of your nearest neighbour, who prides himself on being an expert in Classics.

But that is exactly what Leo Varadkar did to Boris Johnson.

During their joint press conference, ahead of their meeting, the Taoiseach offered his guest a warm welcome to Dublin.

But in truth, he stuck it to his opposite number.

Rejecting Johnson's rambling assurances that all would be well come October 31, Varadkar said: “Prime Minister, negotiating FTAs with the EU and US and securing their ratification in less than three years is going to be a Herculean task for you. We want to be your friend and ally, your Athena, in doing so.”

The reference was subtle but devastating. For those of you not up to speed with your classics, the bottom line is that when Hercules went mad and killed his children, Athena stopped the disaster from getting worse by knocking him out.

Within a number of hours, Athena was trending on Twitter and the perceived burn was spreading widely.

Official queries were lodged with Varadkar's office and a response was drafted.

"It's well known Boris is into classics and literature, the Taoiseach meant the 'Herculean' reference as complimentary, nothing more should be taken from it than that,” the Press Association was informed.

But Varadkar landed several blows.

He made clear that this is not an Irish problem that requires Dublin to bend the knee.

This is and was a catastrophe ignited in Britain and it is for Britain to fix.

He made his point with force: “We both agree we have much to discuss, we accept the democratic and sovereign decisions to leave the EU.

"However, in my view, the story of Brexit won’t end if the UK leaves the EU on October 31 or January 31. There is no such thing as a clean break.”

That was a direct shot at the Brexiteers who have engaged in the fantasy argument that Brexit will deliver economic and social nirvana for the downtrodden Brit.

But he went further. The Taoiseach made it clear that for all the bluff and bluster from Johnson about new talks and proposals aplenty from Downing Street as to how the backstop quagmire can be overcome, he has received not one alternative.

“Yes, we are open to alternatives. But they must be realistic ones, legally binding and workable. We have received no such proposals to date,” he said.

Ouch, that one stung and one could see Johnson shuffling in his shoes.

For his part, Johnson sought to play down expectations that this one meeting would solve everything. But he did say he wants a deal.

“So if I have one message that I want to land with you today Leo, it is that I want to find a deal. I want to get a deal.

"Like you, I've looked carefully at no-deal. I have assessed its consequences, both for our country and yours.

"And, yes, of course, we could do it, the UK could certainly get through it. But be in no doubt that outcome would be a failure of statecraft for which we would all be responsible.

"I would overwhelmingly prefer to find an agreement,” he said.

But Johnson throughout was entirely unconvincing and made his much younger host look like the grown-up of the two.

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