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Leo Varadkar: EU will have the upper hand in post-Brexit trade talks with UK

Image credit: Press association

Leo Varadkar: EU will have the upper hand in post-Brexit trade talks with UK

The European Union will have the upper hand in post-Brexit talks with Britain, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has claimed.

The Irish premier said the EU had a "stronger team" going in to negotiations on the two sides' future relationship because of the bloc's larger population and ability to stay "united".

And he warned Boris Johnson against any attempt to secure a "piecemeal" trade agreement as the two sides thrash out a deal.

Mr Johnson is expected to spell out his negotiating objectives for the talks in the coming weeks, and has vowed not to extend the current transition period - where Britain will stay broadly aligned with EU rules - beyond the end of this year.

That promise tees up a race to secure a free trade deal with Brussels over the next 11 months, with Cabinet ministers already signalling that the UK will look to diverge from many EU rules and standards as it does so.

But Mr Varadkar, who is fighting his first election campaign as Taoiseach, warned the Prime Minister that he risked being outgunned in the talks.

He told the BBC: "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."

The EU has already signalled that divergence from the bloc's rules and standards in any future deal will come at the cost of reduced access to the EU's markets.

Ursula Von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, said on a visit to London earlier this month: "The more divergence there is, the more distant the partnership will be."

That view was echoed by Mr Varadkar, who said: "The final deal, the new relationship, will have to be comprehensive, and you know that's always the case with these kind of agreements."

He added: "When I hear people talking about 'piecemeal', it sounds a bit like 'cake and eat it'. 

"You know, 'let's have a trade deal in the areas where we have an advantage but not in the areas where we don't'.

"And that's not fair And that isn't something that will fly in Europe."

Elsewhere in his BBC interview, the Taoiseach accused British politicians of having failed to understand Ireland's history and place in the EU during the fraught first phase of Brexit talks.

And he pinned the blame in part on the UK's "colonial" past.

He said of Ireland: "We really understand a lot about Britain, but I think a lot of British people don't understand a lot about Ireland, including your politicians,

"And that's what was very badly exposed I think during the whole Brexit process.

"A lot people in Britain underestimated the fact that European partners will stay by us. 

"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."

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