Leo Varadkar and Donald Trump yesterday clashed on Brexit, with the US president railing against the EU in a slap-down of the Taoiseach’s remarks on a proposed free trade deal with America.
Mr Trump also used Mr Varadkar’s visit to the White House yesterday to warn Ireland and the EU the US is “going to tariff a lot of their products coming in because the European Union treats us very, very unfairly”.
Meanwhile, at the traditional St Patrick’s Day shamrock ceremony at the White House, Mr Varadkar praised Mr Trump for the results of his efforts to ‘Make America Great Again’.
In his speech, Mr Varadkar said: “Your ambition is to ‘Make America Great Again’, and I think we can already see some of the results of that.
“The American economy is booming. More jobs. Rising incomes.”
He added: “We know and trust, that making America great again will not mean fighting or losing sight of what makes it great already.”
Earlier, at a somewhat chaotic Oval Office press conference with the Taoiseach, Mr Trump took the opportunity to criticise British Prime Minister Theresa May’s handling of the UK’s departure from the EU.
Mr Trump said he intends to visit Ireland this year and renewed his pledge to build a border wall with Mexico.
Bilateral relations and the Irish undocumented immigrants in the US were on the agenda for Mr Varadkar’s Oval Office meeting with Mr Trump, but Brexit dominated their talks.
Before Mr Varadkar’s arrival, Mr Trump tweeted that he looked forward to making a trade deal with the UK, several hours before British MPs in the House of Commons were due to vote on whether they should seek an extension for Brexit from the EU.
Sitting beside Mr Varadkar, Mr Trump claimed the process of trying to reach a trade deal between the US and the EU contained difficulties.
Mr Trump was asked by reporters if he was still a Brexit supporter. He said: “It wasn’t that I was a supporter. I predicted it was going to happen.”
He was surprised how badly the Brexit talks had gone, adding: “I gave the prime minister [Mrs May] my ideas on how to negotiate… she didn’t listen to that and that’s fine. I think it could have been negotiated in a different manner.”
He added: “I hate to see everything being ripped apart right now,” and said he didn’t think a second referendum would be possible. Mr Trump said the “issue on the Border of Ireland is one of the most complex points”.
The Taoiseach said: “Well, we have a different opinion. I regret Brexit’s happening.”
He said it was the UK’s decision and the most important thing for Ireland was to avoid a hard Border and protect the peace process.
Mr Varadkar also said Ireland wanted frictionless trade with the UK and he believed in free trade, and while it may be years before the UK “sorted itself out”, the EU was “available to talk trade with the US”.
This prompted Mr Trump to complain about how the US was treated in trade talks with the EU and he warned of tariffs being slapped on EU products. He said: “If they don’t talk to us, we’re going to do something pretty severe economically. We’re going to tariff a lot of their products coming in because the European Union treats us very, very unfairly.”
After their private meeting, Mr Varadkar said it had been an opportunity for him to set out Ireland’s position on Brexit, “particularly when it comes to the peace process”.
He said: “I know he is a supporter of Brexit and I am not.
“What I’ve asked for is an understanding of our situation, particularly when it comes to Northern Ireland and avoiding a hard Border and protecting the peace process. He is supportive on that point.”
He said he told Mr Trump there was an opportunity for an EU-US trade deal. He added: “It will be many years before the United Kingdom is able to make any trade deals, so surely it makes sense to make one with the EU first. There’s 500 million of us, only 60 million of them.”
Earlier, on his plans to visit Ireland, Mr Trump said: “I’ll be coming at some point during the year. I missed it last time but I would have loved to have been there. It’s a special place.”