Leo Varadkar made the claim in late January as the UK was on the cusp of leaving the EU. The Irish Taoiseach was in a confident mood when he argued that the UK was mistaken in thinking the EU27 would join Prime Minister Boris Johnson in telling Ireland “what’s what”. Mr Varadkar also cast doubt over the UK’s ability to get a trade deal done by the end of 2020 – when the transition period ends. He also added that the EU would have the “upper hand” in the talks, lead on the British side by David Frost and Michel Barnier in Brussels.
Speaking to the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg, Mr Varadkar said a “lot of people” both in Westminster and Britain don’t “understand Ireland” and “underestimated the fact that European partners will stay by” Ireland in Brexit talks.
Mr Varadkar said: “You know, Britain has a very powerful history, a very colonial history.
“And I think there were people in Britain who thought that France, Germany and Britain would get together at a big summit and tell the small countries what’s what.
“That’s not the way the 21st century works, that’s certainly not the way the European Union works.”
Mr Varadkar added that it was “the reality of the situation” that the EU would have the upper hand in trade talks.
He continued: “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, it’s about 60.
“So if these were two teams up against each other playing football, who do you think has the stronger team? So long as we’re united.”
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“That’s where one country can hold things up, or two countries can, and potentially that might be the reason as to why we may need an extension for another year in order to allow parliaments around Europe, maybe where there are elections happening, who knows, to have a bit more time to consider it.”
Mr Varadkar predicted that the biggest flashpoint in talks would be around what is dubbed “level playing field.”
He added that “there’s a genuine concern across the European Union, that part of the motivation behind Brexit was for the UK to undercut us in terms of environmental standards, labour standards, product standards, food standards, all of those things.
“Now when I meet Prime Minister Johnson he says, no absolutely not, that’s not the kind United Kingdom that I want to need as prime minister.
“But we want that written down in law, we want that in a treaty so that we know that the UK will not be undercutting the EU with lower standards.”