Finn McRedmond

Why Varadkar’s Brexit bashing is falling flat

Leo Varadkar did not pull any punches in his interview with BBC Political Editor Laura Kuennsberg on Monday. Embroiled in a general election campaign, with less than two weeks to go until polling day, the incumbent Taoiseach told Kuennsberg that Britain is underestimating the difficulties that lie ahead as phase two of Brexit gets underway:

‘I think the reality of the situation is that the European Union is a union of 27 member states, the UK is only one country, and we have a population and a market of 450 million people. The UK is about 60 [million]. So if these were two teams up against each other playing football, who do you think has the stronger team?…’I don’t think the UK has yet come to terms with the fact it’s now a small country’

Varadkar has rarely shied away from making his position on Brexit clear – and from day one nailed Ireland’s colours to the mast as a fervently pro-European country that believes in the strength of the bloc to protect the interests of its smaller member states.

But as Varadkar’s party Fine Gael struggles in the polls, it is no coincidence that he has put his record on Brexit front and centre of his campaign: Fine Gael has prioritised Brexit on its candidates’ literature ahead of their other manifesto promises on climate action and tax reform.

Over his tenure, Varadkar has enjoyed regular boosts to his personal approval ratings whenever he’s been portrayed as central to any kind of Brexit breakthrough. After Varadkar met Boris Johnson in the Wirral after Conservative party conference last year and the pair managed to resolve what seemed like an intractable issue over the Irish border, Varadkar’s approval ratings rose a staggering 15 points, from 36 in May to 51 in October.

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