Opinion: Leo’s hopes the North can get a “soft Brexit” are wildly optimistic – Irish Independent

Opinion: Leo’s hopes the North can get a “soft Brexit” are wildly optimistic – Irish Independent

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Leo Varadkar newly elected leader of Fine Gael

Leo Varadkar newly elected leader of Fine Gael


John Downing

Farmers more usually get up early in the morning. So, Leo Varadkar’s campaign sound bite should not cause conflict between the agriculture sector and the incoming Taoiseach.

Mr Varadkar, whose mother grew up on a farm near Dungarvan, did actually cite agriculture in his policy priorities document launched just over a fortnight ago, on May 22, in the teeth of his campaign to win the big job.

Naturally, he led off with Brexit, but he also spoke of the future of EU farm payments as a new regime post 2020 looms into view, and the need to adapt Irish farming to meet climate change targets.

On Brexit he spoke of a pledge to “put the unique difficulties of the agriculture and food sector top of the agenda.” He identified the need to protect Irish food exports to the UK from what is increasingly looking like “a hard Brexit” with some form of tariffs and border controls a very clear danger post 2019.

The whole thing takes on a deal of urgency with tough talk in London of storming off with “no deal – rather than a bad deal.” That would mean World Trade Organisation rules and some very hefty tariffs inimical to trade and creating more fuss and expense to administer.

For the Taoiseach-designate the remedy would be an “EU-Britain Free Trade Agreement” post the divorce in April 2019. But that is all much easier said than done.

Matters might be helped by the British general election on Thursday. But that assumes a stronger majority for Prime Minister Theresa May, something which at time of writing appears to be a big assumption.

More generally, the election of Emmanuel Macron as French president and the completion of parliamentary elections in France should calm things. German elections due in September will not impact on Brexit as the two big groupings there are on the same page about the EU.

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