Leo Varadkar – the gay man at the forefront of shaping Europe’s future
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.
New PM, new rules?
With the change in the UK’s Prime Minister from Theresa May to Boris Johnson, there’s been a lot said by the UK government that they’re going to be negotiating a new agreement with Europe, and if that’s not possible then the UK will leave the EU without a deal.
In response, we’ve seen Varadkar pushing back on some of the assumptions that the UK government appears to basing its new-found confidence on – describing it as “heightened rhetoric”.
“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.
What next for Brexit?
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.
Varadkar remains clear that he does not want to see a no-deal Brexit.
“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.”
Leo Varadkar is clearly someone that we’re going to be hearing a lot from in the months to come.