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Brexit won’t define Ireland or the EU, says Varadkar

Leo Varadkar told a conference at Trinity College Dublin that Brexit will, however, define the UK for the next few decades.

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Leo Varadkar hailed the benefits of EU membership (Liam McBurney/PA)

Leo Varadkar hailed the benefits of EU membership (Liam McBurney/PA)

Leo Varadkar hailed the benefits of EU membership (Liam McBurney/PA)

Irish premier Leo Varadkar has said that Brexit must not define Ireland or the European Union.

Mr Varadkar told a conference at Trinity College Dublin that Brexit will, however, define the UK for the next few decades.

The Taoiseach was speaking at an event to mark the 250th anniversary of the university’s debating society, College Historical Society.

The conference, entitled Europe and the Future, was hosted by the debating society and Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA).

Mr Varadkar, who was a former member of the society, described the EU as a “steal when you look at” what Ireland puts in and what it gets out of the European Union.

Also speaking at the event was former president of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy, former president of the European Commission Romano Prodi, as well as former secretary general of the European Commission Catherine Day.

Mr Varadkar told the audience: “It’s really cheap if you think about what we get back from the European Union, for the amount that we contribute and it’s a pity, I think in some ways, that it was never seen by the UK, not least in the last 30 years.

“We believe in the principles of the European Union, because we in Ireland know first-hand the value of European unity, sweeping away so many of the differences between north and south.

“We must not let Brexit define us or define Europe. Yes, it is defining the UK, and probably will for the next few decades.

“But we are in control of our destiny, and we must decide how we want to shape it.

“I believe there are lessons that Europe can draw from recent events.

“First, the learning from Brexit should be that working together, as we did in the past, we can solve the most intractable of problems.”

He added that the amount of money Ireland pays is a “small price” for the “enormous intangible benefits” from the EU.

Mr Varadkar also said he wants to secure a one billion euro Peace Plus programme for Northern Ireland and the border counties.

“We are very much on our way to do that,” he added.

“I think the world should not be divided between dreamers and realists.

“It is driven forward by dreamers and realists who believe in creating a better future.”

Mr Varadkar told the crowd that Ireland and the EU needs to be better at highlighting the strengths of European unity.

He added: “This will also help us face down the spectre of populism. We need to be better at presenting and defending what we do, otherwise our narrative is shaped by others.

“So we have to become better at presenting the real news.”

The Taoiseach added that agreeing the EU’s seven-year budget is proving difficult and will need further discussions across Europe.

“At almost every EU summit, we call for more action and deeper co-operation on one issue or another.

“This is not sincere if we do not allow ourselves the budget adequate to do this,” he added.

PA