Varadkar putting peace process at the top of his Washington visit

Varadkar putting peace process at the top of his Washington visit
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar speaking at the US Chamber of Commerce in Washington DC during his visit to the US. (Brian Lawless/PA Wire)

Leo Varadkar faces many challenges on this visit to Washington DC for the St Patrick’s Day festivities. But no task will be as crucial as ensuring that the peace process - threatened by a chaotic Brexit - is promoted on the world stage, writes Juno McEnroe in Washington DC

In meetings with senior US political figures, including President Donald Trump and Republican and Democrats from Congress, he will need to rally support from America, whether that comes via a warning to British interests to protect the peace process or through subtle hints that any new US-UK trade deal would be in jeopardy if Britain crashed out of the EU.

Ireland is one of the few countries globally to get such opportunity at self-promotion with the St Patrick's Day celebrations. Cabinet members were briefed ahead of jetting off around the world for celebrations that they must stress the importance of the peace process.

At such a critical juncture in the fraught Brexit negotiations, the Taoiseach is likely to pull at the heartstrings of American leaders, both in politics and business, and remind them of the hard-earned success of Ireland’s peace process. There will be warnings about border issues too. This is especially so after Britain published a worrying scheme of trade tariffs today.

It is imaginable that Donald Trump (with a little nudging from the White House administration) will recommit America’s support for Ireland. A major caveat is that Mr Trump favours Brexit and may back Brexit even if that comes without agreement.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar arriving at the US Chamber of Commerce in Washington DC during his visit to the US. (Brian Lawless/PA Wire)
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar arriving at the US Chamber of Commerce in Washington DC during his visit to the US. (Brian Lawless/PA Wire)

That aside, congressmen have taken it upon themselves to intervene. Democrat Richard Neale and 19 others wrote to British prime minister Theresa May during the week, warning that a US-UK free trade deal could be delayed “indefinitely” and to at all costs avoid imposing a new border.

That letter gives Mr Varadkar an opportunity to raise matters. The problem is, the pieces on the Brexit chessboard keep moving. By the time he meets Donald Trump in the Oval Office tomorrow and later returns to the White House for the shamrock bowl presentation, Westminster will have voted again.

There will also be a renewed push to secure the E3 visa scheme for Irish citizens, with US envoy and TD John Deasy meeting Mr Trump too.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar arriving at the US Chamber of Commerce in Washington DC during his visit to the US. (Brian Lawless/PA Wire)
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar arriving at the US Chamber of Commerce in Washington DC during his visit to the US. (Brian Lawless/PA Wire)

Other matters likely to dominate talks between Mr Varadkar and Donald Trump will include the US trade war with the EU and US taxation. Mr Varadkar also said he would raise human rights issues with Mr Trump.

In truth, neither Donald Trump nor Leo Varadkar probably want to be in the Oval Office tomorrow. All Ireland’s attention is on London while Mr Trump has his hands full with plans to build a wall with Mexico and the scandal of alleged links with Russia during the US 2016 presidential election.

But this is politics. And many figures, including from business, the arts and politics, gather in Washington DC in the lead up to March 17.

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