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talking tough

Pence urges Ireland and EU to negotiate in 'good faith' with Boris Johnson on Brexit

Pence’s message on Brexit today was stronger than many had been expecting.

US VICE PRESIDENT Mike Pence stuck strongly to the Trump administration’s position on Brexit during press comments alongside the Taoiseach in Dublin this afternoon, as he urged Ireland and the EU to negotiate “in good faith” with new British Prime Minister Boris Johnson. 

The Taoiseach had said he would use today’s meeting with Pence to further outline and explain Ireland’s position, and in the joint appearance at Farmleigh today Varadkar said Ireland must “stand our ground” on the withdrawal agreement negotiated between the EU and Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May. 

He asked Pence, as they stood at separate podiums in front of a small army of Irish and American reporters, to “bring that message back to Washington with you”. 

Speaking at Shannon yesterday after being welcomed to the country by Tánaiste Simon Coveney Pence said the US would work closely with Ireland and the UK “to support a Brexit plan that encourages stability and also one that keeps the strong foundation forged by the Good Friday Agreement”. 

vp usa 73-3_90578939 Pence and Varadkar take to their podiums at Farmleigh. Pence's comments on Brexit were stronger than many had been expecting. Sam Boal Sam Boal

His remarks on Brexit this afternoon were stronger than many had been expecting, but are in keeping with recent comments by President Trump himself and other senior administration figures. 

Trump has made no secret of his support for Brexit. He said UK could expect a “very big trade deal” in the wake of Brexit after a breakfast meeting with Johnson at the G7 recently.

Speaking to the press after being hosted for lunch by the Taoiseach and his partner Matt Barrett today, Pence said that while he recognised the “unique challenges” posed by the border he encouraged Ireland and the UK to work together. 

He went on to call on Ireland and the EU to negotiate in good faith with Johnson to secure a deal that “respects the UK’s sovereignty”. 

He added that the US was also seeking Ireland’s support in negotiating a new trade agreement with the EU.

Varadkar, in his remarks, said the two had discussed the vital role the US had played in the peace process in the North. Highlighting the role of Republicans in the decades-long process, he noted Ronald Reagan’s role in convincing Margaret Thatcher to sign the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement.

“The UK’s decision to travel a different course to ours risks being deeply disruptive, especially for the people of Northern Ireland, where most people voted to stay in Europe,” Varadkar said in his remarks on Brexit. 

“Divergence between the UK and the EU means that the return of a hard border on this island is a very real risk.

“I know that you understand the impact a hard border will have on us on this island – barriers to the free movement of people and frictionless trade, barriers to North/South co-operation, the risk that the Good Friday Agreement and peace will be undermined.

That is why we must stand our ground on the Withdrawal Agreement. An Agreement which was carefully negotiated to overcome all these risks.
And so, Mr Vice President I ask, that you bring that message back to Washington with you.

Trump greetings

Pence, who consistently referred to Ireland as the ‘Emerald Isle’ in his comments, said he brought the greetings of US President Donald Trump, and thanked the Taoiseach for his welcome.

After going into some detail on his own Irish links, he then went on to refer at length to the ongoing response to Hurricane Dorian, in remarks aimed squarely at a domestic US audience. 

Reading from an autocue, Pence went on to list the various business links between Ireland and the US.

Referencing US military use of Shannon – which, of course, has long been a contentious issue in Ireland – he thanked the State for its “hospitality” in recent years.

The Vice President said he had been happy to welcome Varadkar and his partner to his home in Washington earlier this year and that it had been an honour to meet the Taoiseach’s parents today.

The Varadkars had joined Pence and his party for lunch earlier in the afternoon: Second Lady Karen Pence, his mother Nancy Pence-Fritsch and his sister Ann Poynter are accompanying the Vice President on his Irish visit. 

The two leaders did not take questions from the room after their press statements. Pence ignored a shouted question about Brexit as they left. 

All of Pence’s Dublin engagements today were confined to the Phoenix Park. The Vice Presidential party paid a courtesy visit to President Higgins at Áras an Uachtaráin earlier today, and was due at the US Ambassador’s residence for talks with business leaders after he left Farmleigh. 

He will stay overnight at Trump Doonbeg again tonight before leaving the country tomorrow on route to further European engagements, including a planned meeting with Johnson in London. 

About 50 protesters, carrying rainbow flags and playing music, held a ‘Disco at the Dáil’ on Kildare Street this afternoon to mark Pence’s presence in the country in an event organised by Amnesty Ireland. 

The Vice President, a former governor of Indiana, has long been criticised for his views on LGBT rights and abortion. 

“We want to show him, and people that support him, that we’re a different country now, so that he can’t go back to the USA and say there is any support for his policies here,” organisers said.

- With reporting by Andrew Roberts 

Daragh Brophy in Liverpool & Hayley Halpin
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