Anti and pro-Brexit protest ors square up against each other in Westminster, London.

  • Britain's "colonial history" meant it misunderstood Ireland and the EU in Brexit talks, according to Ireland's leader Leo Varadkar.
  • The Taoiseach said that the UK expected the EU's other big countries to tell Ireland "what's what".
  • Varadkar said that it would be difficult to strike a new free trade deal before December 2020.
  • He said that it could get "messy" when parliaments decide whether to support a new trade deal.
  • The UK and EU are set to begin negotiating a new future relationship in March.
  • Varadkar said the EU would have the upper-hand when talks get underway.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.


Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar says Britain's "colonial history" meant it misunderstood Ireland in Brexit talks and mistakenly thought that the UK and the European Union's other bigger countries would tell Dublin "what's what."

Speaking to the the BBC's Laura Kuenssberg, 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.

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."

Prime Minister Boris Johnson was able to make a breakthrough with Taoiseach Varadkar and the other EU leaders in October after months of deadlock over the question of how to preserve the seamless border on the island of Ireland.

Attention now turns to the future relationship between the UK and the EU, with negotiations on a future trade deal set to get underway in March.

Varadkar said "the reality of the situation" is that the EU will have the upper hand in trade talks.

"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," the Irish leader said.

"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."

Varadkar predicts Brexit trade talks will get 'messy'

Both sides have less than a year to negotiate new trading arrangements, with Prime Minister Johnson saying he will not in any circumstances extend the Brexit transition period beyond December 2020.

Varadker said he didn't agree with Johnson's claim that there would be "bags of time" to strike a deal, warning that any deal will probably need to go through the "messy" process of being ratified by several European parliaments.

He told the BBC: "So, unlike the Withdrawal Agreement which had to be passed by the House of Commons on the European Parliament, this might have to be passed by the 27 parliaments of all the different member states.

"And that's where it gets messy."

"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."

Varadkar predicted that the biggest flashpoint in talks would be around what is dubbed "level playing field."

The EU says it will only give the UK tariff and quote-free access to European markets if Johnson's government agrees in writing to follow a common set of standards covering the environment, production, labour, and other areas. However, Johnson has said the UK will not commit to a level playing field with the EU after Brexit.

Varadkar said "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."

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