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Workout vests, scuppered deals and Christmas drinks - Leo ends the week on a Brexit bounce

A week is long time in politics, but Leo has finished on a Brexit high.

Brexit Source: PA Wire/PA Images

DRINKING OUT OF his ‘World’s Best Taoiseach’ mug on Friday morning, Leo Varadkar could hardly hide his delight.

After a stop-start week of Brexit negotiations, the Taoiseach finally got his moment in the sun when it appeared he had emerged unscathed while Theresa May and Arlene Foster had to spin their wins.

His smile was evident throughout the early morning press conference when he announced there will be no hard border.

“This is a very significant day for everyone on the island of Ireland.”

Varadkar is riding high on the wave of the latest opinion poll from The Irish Times which has Fine Gael with a double-digit lead over Fianna Fáil.

Word of the poll seeped through as Fine Gael and Fianna Fail both held their Christmas drinks on Wednesday night. The Taoiseach was clearly in good spirits, despite the Brexit negotiations hanging in the balance.

It appears nothing consolidates the Irish more than ‘outsiders’ throwing their weight around.

The Taoiseach was told to ”shut your gob” by the British edition of The Sun, then there were lines from the DUP that Ireland was being overly “aggressive” in its approach, and criticism that the Irish government shouldn’t even be mentioning a united Ireland (despite it being a key element of the Good Friday Agreement).

Perhaps all of the above gave Leo a Brexit bounce.

Fianna Fáil on the other hand were keeping their cards close to their chests, stating that they don’t pay heed to polls, and pointing to the trend of past surveys which they say shows the bigger picture.

Despite the news giving the Fine Gael Christmas drinks a healthy boost – there were some that put the jump down to “the public obviously realising that we were right all along, and that Frances Fitzgerald did nothing wrong”.

Wishful thinking, perhaps. Or the Christmas drink.

A long week in politics 

A week can be a long time in politics and if you cast your mind back just 14 days, Varadkar’s leadership was in crisis. How Varadkar handled the whole Fitzgerald email situation was downright puzzling to people, including some in his own party.

He brazenly thought he could ride out the storm, but once additional emails were revealed, the writing was on the wall for Fitzgerald.

Despite her stepping aside, the Taoiseach’s loyalty was still evident when he stated that he couldn’t wait for her to be vindicated and for her to return to a high position within the party.

The whole mess took the country to the brink of an election. His stubbornness and the realisation that this just wouldn’t have got this far under Enda Kenny had people  scratching their heads.

But hey, there’s nothing like an international crisis, in which you, a pretty tiny country in the grand scheme of things, is at the centre. If the British and the Europeans didn’t know much about Leo Varadkar, they certainly do now.

Casual Mondays 

Which is why the Taoiseach’s wardrobe choice on Monday had people talking. Monday was the day a deal was looking most likely.

Donald Tusk’s “tell me why I like Monday’s” tweet set the stage, there were positive words coming from both the Europeans and British and it all looked like it was going to be much more straightforward than anticipated.

But no one did casual Monday like Leo Varadkar who rolled into Government Buildings post-work out in a red activewear vest top.

Brexit

With the press waiting in a holding pen at Government Buildings, it soon became evident that the DUP had issued a reminder of their existence and Theresa May was left to scuttle out of her lunch with Juncker and tell reporters that no deal had been done.

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It all looked dead in the water on Monday. Who was to blame? There was a lot of finger-pointing. Arlene Foster rounded on the Irish government claiming they had told Theresa May not to show then the final text.

Realistically, this isn’t credible.

The Irish government just does not have that clout, something confirmed by a source close to the Taoiseach likening it to Theresa May requesting Varadkar not tell Kevin Boxer Moran or Katherine Zappone certain information.

Brexit Leo Varadkar arriving at Government Buildings on Monday. Source: Laura Hutton/Rollingnews.ie

There is no doubt that Anglo-Irish relations have been damaged over the past week. Varadkar admitted it himself during the week, noting he wishes to rebuild relationships.

However, that will remain difficult with scathing remarks still emanating from various quarters, such as DUP MEP Sammy Wilson who chastised the “green” approach from “those two” (Varadkar and Coveney) which he claimed had pushed relations back years.

In some eyes, Varadkar’s handling of the Fitzgerald debacle made him looked naive and inexperienced, but the Brexit talks changed that somewhat.

However, the success was not a one-man (or even one-party) play. Ireland’s success, and in turn Leo’s, was down to the country having unwavering support from the big players in Europe.

Had Ireland been batting solo – there could have been a very different outcome. Unusually, he also had across-the-floor support from all parties in Dáil Eireann.

With the first Brexit crisis out of the way though, it’s the ever-steady list of domestic problems and crises that could trip up the Taoiseach.

Health, hospital waiting lists, homelessness, housing, home carers in distress, corporation tax, the abortion referendum, not to mention the threat of a possible election … and sometimes, it can just be the little things.

Roll on 2018.

Sky News anchor to Coveney: ‘Do you think that this week’s kerfuffle has been necessary? Do you feel guilty?’>

As it happened: EU and UK agree no hard border on a ‘very significant day for the island of Ireland’>

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