Leo Varadkar – the gay man at the forefront of shaping Europe’s future
It’s all fairly confusing, but we seem to finally be entering the final act of the ongoing saga of Brexit – the UK’s decision to leave the European Union. While there is still so much that is uncertain and unclear, what has become apparent that one of the key figures in European politics remains Leo Varadkar.
Varadkar is the Taoiseach of the Republic of Ireland – the country’s elected head of government.
Early life and career
Born in Dublin in 1979, Leo Varadkar’s mother was a nurse. His father was a doctor who had moved to Dublin from Mumbai, and the family retained strong connections with India.
Studying medicine at Trinity College in Dublin, Varadkar was active in student politics, taking official roles in the European People’s Party.
Following graduation, Varadkar worked as General Practitioner.
Varadkar was elected to the lower house of the Irish parliament in 2007. He was immediately appointed to the front-bench of the government, and subsequently held a number of portfolios and ministerial responsibilities.
In 2017, Varadkar was elected as the head of the political party Fine Gael, and was able to secure enough support in the parliament to be appointed Taoiseach.
In early 2015, during a media interview, Varadkar spoke publicly for the first time about being gay. Later that year, Ireland held a referendum on the question of marriage equality – Varadkar was one of the prominent advocates for marriage equality. Varadkar’s partner is Matthew Barrett.
Brexit’s Border Problem
As a member of the European Union, Ireland has been a key player throughout the lengthy negotiations regarding the exit of the UK.
The UK government negotiated an exit agreement with the EU, however the UK government failed to get this agreement approved by the UK parliament. The key sticking point appeared to be the proposed border arrangements between the UK and Ireland.
In the agreement that was negotiated, both sides committed to avoiding a ‘hard’ border – meaning that there should be no physical checks for movement between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. To achieve this, the agreement included a ‘Backstop’ provision – a position of last-resort to maintain an open border should a wider customs agreement not be agreed between the UK and the EU. The concern raised within the UK parliament was that this Backstop could effectively prevent the UK from leaving the EU.
Pro-Brexit advocates in the UK have targeted Varadkar as one of the apparently barriers to the UK exiting the EU on favourable terms.
“My attitude to that is that when people start to criticise you personally or attack your character it’s because they don’t really want to engage with you on the substance of the issues…” said Varadkar, responding to a question regarding recent coverage of him the UK media.
“A no-deal Brexit would have very serious impacts on the economy north and south and in Britain…” explained Varadkar. “It could have security implications as well.”
The latest proposal
Negotiations are continuing, and the UK government has submitted a new proposal to the EU in order to secure an exit deal that navigates the border questions in Ireland and meets everyone’s requirements.
The proposals from the UK government would see Northern Ireland stay in the European single market for goods, subject to approval every four years by the Northern Ireland Assembly. Northern Ireland would leave the EU customs union along with the rest of the UK – resulting in new customs checks.
Varadkar has said that he believes that a Brexit deal is still possible, but that the UK government’s current proposals do not “form the basis for deeper negotiations”. Varadkar has confirmed that a deal must be agreed ahead of the European Council summit, which takes place on 17-18 October.
What next for Brexit?
It’s a confusing picture.
The UK’s Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has publicly committed that the UK will leave the EU by 31 October 2019 – with or without a negotiated exit deal.
The UK Parliament has passed legislation that requires the UK Government to seek an extension for Brexit, to avoid the prospect of a No-Deal exit.
The UK government is currently trying to seek an agreed deal with the EU. Proposals have been submitted and are currently being negotiated, but it seems as if the UK government is running out of time and it seems as if they will be forced to request an extension even if they don’t really want one.
Meanwhile, the opposition parties in the UK seem unable to agree a combined approach on how to avoid a No-Deal Brexit. The consensus seems to be that they should work together to force a vote of No Confidence in the Prime Minister and the Government, but they are unable to agree on the timing of this vote or who would replace Boris Johnson as the UK Prime Minister.
We live in interesting times.