Brexit critic Varadkar in fresh row prior to return as Irish leader

Ireland: Varadkar 'not optimistic' about new UK Prime Minister

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Leo Varadkar is under significant pressure just days before he is due to return as Ireland’s Taoiseach, a former diplomat has warned. Ray Bassett also believes there is “considerable trepidation” about the prospect of the Fine Gael leader taking over the reins of government once again, given his “hawkish” attitude towards Brexit.

Mr Varadkar, 43, who served in the top job from 2017 to 2020, and who is currently Tanaiste, or deputy, is due to become Taoiseach again on Friday, as agreed under the Programme for Government when the coalition formed in 2020.

However, Mr Bassett, Ireland’s former ambassador to Canada, Jamaica and the Bahamas, warned there were choppy waters ahead.

He said: “There is considerable concern among Irish political parties, including within his own Fine Gael, that the incoming Taoiseach Leo Varadkar may be carrying too much controversial personal baggage.”

He pointed to Mr Varadkar’s leaking in 2020 of confidential documents, including a draft contract between the Health Service Executive and GPs, do a personal friend of his, suggesting a subsequent investigation “was not the clear cut endorsement he had claimed”.

Mr Bassett explained: “Two prominent members of the Standards in Public Office (SIPO), Comptroller and Auditor General, Seamus McCarthy, and Ombudsman, Ger Deering, both dissented from the original ruling and asked that their views be formally noted.

“These are two of the highest independent officials, charged with ensuring the integrity of the public service, and their judgment has damaged Varadkar”.

Mr Bassett continued: “Apart from the ethical issues, there is also considerable unease about Varadkar’s record in regard to relations with Britain.

“Since Micheal Martin took over as Taoiseach, the temperature and the tenor of public announcements from Dublin have lowered considerably. 

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“Martin has made restoring a good and mutually beneficial connection between Dublin and London as one of his key priorities.”

At EU level, Mr Martin had urged a “conciliatory” approach to post Brexit Britain, Mr Bassett stressed.

He added: “This is in marked contrast to Varadkar’s hawkish and hectoring tone during the earlier UK/EU trade discussions. 

“As encouraging signs emerge of a possible agreement on the Northern Ireland Protocol, the re-emergence of Varadkar as Taoiseach is sign by many as a potentially negative element.

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“However despite Varadkar’s shortcomings, there is no clear heir apparent on the horizon.”

Mr Varadkar, though weakened, was therefore likely to “soldier on” to the next election, due in over two years’ time, Mr Bassett suggested.

Meanwhile the 43-year-old, a qualified doctor, this week refused to comment after a video of him in a nightclub was shared on, and subsequently removed from, TikTok, with the clip having been viewed more than two million times.

Asked about the footage by the Irish Mirror last week, Mr Varadkar said: “I think it’s very much a personal matter and as you say it does relate entirely to my private life and for those reasons I don’t want to comment on it.”

Express.co.uk has approached Mr Varadkar for comment.

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