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Image: Laura Hutton/Photocall Ireland

Leo Varadkar-Boris Johnson phone call to be arranged 'in the near future'

A customary call between the two leaders usually takes place when one takes office.
Jul 29th 2019, 9:28 AM 55,307 137

Updated Jul 29th 2019, 7:35 PM

THE TAOISEACH AND the new British Prime Minister will speak “in the near future”, a government spokesperson has said this evening, after questions were raised about the absence of the traditional one-on-one phone call following Johnson’s move to No 10.

Although the Irish government has contacted the newly formed British government “at official level”, Leo Varadkar has yet to receive a phone call from Boris Johnson almost a week after the new British Prime Minister assumed office.

A call between the two offices is arranged when a new leader enters 10 Downing Street.

Former Taoiseach Enda Kenny spoke with Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May on her first day in office in 2013, Brian Cowen did the same on the day David Cameron became Prime Minister in 2010, while in 2007, Bertie Ahern spoke to Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown on the day he assumed office.

However, no contact has been made between Varadkar and Johnson as the threat of a no-deal Brexit intensifies following the latter’s election as leader of the Conservative Party.

Varadkar told Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin last week that he hoped that the two would “meet as soon as possible” to discuss Brexit, Northern Ireland and bilateral relations.

Speaking on Morning Ireland on RTÉ Radio 1 this morning, Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine Michael Creed said he did not believe the lack of phone call was a calculated snub by Johnson.

“The UK is our nearest neighbour, it’s our closest trading partner. We will overcome the challenges of Brexit and remain on cordial terms with our nearest neighbour,” he said.

“That’s an imperative; it’s an absolute certainty.

“There will be…engagement between the Taoiseach and Boris Johnson at the earliest possible date and I’ve no doubt that arrangements are going on behind the scenes for that to happen.”

 In a statement to TheJournal.ie, a spokesman for the Department of the Taoiseach said Varadkar would use an opportunity to speak about Brexit when he talked to Johnson.

The statement said:

The Prime Minister says he wants to leave the EU with a deal. The Taoiseach looks forward to speaking with the Prime Minister in the near future and hearing about how he plans to do that.
The EU 27, including Ireland, has said that the Withdrawal Agreement will not be re-opened and must include the backstop because it gives the guarantees we need on Northern Ireland, citizens’ rights and the all-island economy.
There can, however, be changes to the political declaration on the future relationship. We continue to prepare intensively for no deal.

Northern Ireland visit

Johnson is expected to visit Northern Ireland later this week, a situation that would normally prompt a call from Downing Street to the Taoiseach.

However, tensions between Ireland and the UK have grown since the new Conservative leader took charge last week, which has cast doubt on whether Johnson will contact Varadkar in advance of that visit.

Speaking at MacGill’s Summer School in Glenties on Friday, Varadkar said he believed that Northern Ireland would reconsider their role in the union after Brexit.

“People who are described as moderate nationalists will look more towards a United Ireland, and liberal unionists will start to ask the question where do they feel more at home, as is Britain potentially talking about bringing back the death penalty,” he said.

Those comments followed remarks by Tánaiste Simon Coveney, who took direct aim at Johnson by describing statements during his opening speech in the House of Commons – when he implied he might oversee a no-deal Brexit in October – as “unhelpful”.

“He seems to have made a deliberate decision to set Britain on a collision course with the European Union and with Ireland in relation to the Brexit negotiations, and I think only he can answer the question as to why he is doing that,” Coveney said.

Coveney also described his meeting with the new Northern Ireland secretary Julian Smith as “helpful”, after the two met to discuss the possibility of getting the Stormont assembly to function again.

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Stephen McDermott

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