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Varadkar says in uncertain time of Brexit, 'friends' in the United States are needed 'more than ever'

All eyes were on Varadkar and his partner Matt Barrett, as they attended the Irish Funds dinner in Washington DC last night.

Leo Varadkar at the Ireland Funds dinner in Washington DC.
Leo Varadkar at the Ireland Funds dinner in Washington DC.
Image: PA Wire/PA Images

Christina Finn reports from Washington DC

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has said that in the “uncertain” time of Brexit, support from the United States is needed “more so than ever”. 

All eyes were on Varadkar and his partner Matt Barrett, as they attended the Irish Funds dinner in Washington DC last night. 

With Brexit tensions at their height, some of the key players were all in the same room – Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald and the DUP leader Arlene Foster, both seated on separate tables, but noteworthy that Foster switched seats later in the evening to sit next to the Taoiseach. 

Yesterday the House of Commons voted against a no-deal Brexit with 321 MPs rejecting leaving the European Union without an agreement at any time. 

After a chaotic evening in Westminster, 278 voted against the motion which aims to rule out a no-deal Brexit in any circumstances. 

Tomorrow, a vote on extending Article 50 and pushing Brexit out a few months will take place.

Speaking to the crowd of Irish-Americans last night, Varadkar said Brexit is sixteen days away, “we need our friends here in the US more so than ever”.

Earlier in the day, he said the appointment by the US of  a Northern Ireland special envoy would be welcomed, stating that it has proved beneficial in the past.

At the dinner, he said that while some had made the decision to leave the EU, Ireland was steadfast in its belief that it can be the centre of Europe, stating that the Irish government is determined to protect the Good Friday Agreement and “everything the flows from it”.

Applause

There was a round of applause from the audience, when he said Ireland will remain a committed member of the EU and guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement. 

The second applause came when Varadkar mentioned planned legislation which will require companies to disclose gender pay gaps. 

The theme of the dinner this year was honouring visionary women. 

Earlier in the day, Varadkar warned that the possibility of UK crashing out of EU is “growing”.

Supports

Speaking ahead of his meeting with US Donald Trump today, Varadkar had one message for the Irish public and Irish businesses – “the Irish government has your back”. 

Varadkar said he understands that a lot of people in “Ireland must be very worried and must be very concerned today, but what I want to say to our exporters and our business people today, our farmers, out fishermen, the government has your back and we have put in place a package of measures to support incomes, to support and assist business, to restructure and reorientate to new markets”.

The package of support measures will go before Cabinet next week, he stated. 

“We are well placed to deal with any shock that might arise from no deal. The fact we have a budget surplus means we can borrow if we need to support our economy, the NTMA has cash on hand should there be any disturbance in the markets, the banks are well capitalised,” said Varadkar.

There will be damage limitation, he added, stating that the government “will protect incomes, we will protect jobs and we will support businesses to overcome whatever happens in the next couple of weeks”.

US-EU trade deal

Speaking about trade with the US, the Taoiseach said he would like to see renewed engagement around a US-EU trade deal, before the US strikes one with the UK. 

He said this could prove difficult due to the sensitivities surrounding agriculture, but he said it would be beneficial for both sides to talk.

To the broader public, the Taoiseach gave reassurances yesterday that “the Common Travel Area and all that comes with it, free movement between Britain and Ireland, north south will continue, that has already been agreed, and also the country is well prepared for a no-deal”. 

Unlike other countries, Ireland has a budget surplus, he explained, stating that the country can borrow “if we have to”. 

Addressing a room full of American and Irish business people today, Varadkar said the US investment to Ireland “really transformed” the country, adding that it would not be as prosperous as it is today without that investment. 

He urged businesses to continue to invest in Ireland, and in the light of Brexit, added that it is Ireland’s position that it will always be at the “heart of Europe”. Varadkar told the businesspeople today that maintaining peace on the island of Ireland is the key priority. 

TheJournal.ie’s Political Correspondent Christina Finn will be bringing you all the latest updates from Leo Varadkar’s visit to Washington DC this week, including his meeting with US President Donald Trump on Thursday.

Stay up-to-date by following @christinafinn8@TJ_Politics  and TheJournal.ie’s Facebook page

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