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'All sides made mistakes in handling Brexit' - Varadkar

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said mistakes were made on all sides in the handling of Brexit, but vowed to be "flexible and reasonable" when attempting to solve issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol.

He conceded that the post-Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol is "too strict" and said he understands unionist concerns that the treaty has made them feel less British.

Mr Varadkar, who became Taoiseach for a second time in December, has become deeply unpopular within some sections of unionism and loyalism who claim he was an instrumental figure in the creation of the contentious protocol.

His name and image have recently appeared in threatening graffiti and posters in loyalist areas of Northern Ireland.

Despite this, he has insisted he is looking forward to travelling to the north early this year.

Asked about the negative perception of him within unionism, the Taoiseach said: "I'm sure we've all made mistakes in the handling of Brexit.

"There was no road map, no manual, it wasn't something that we expected would happen and we've all done our best to deal with it.

"Again, I look forward to travelling to Northern Ireland early in the new year, meeting with all the parties, and reaching out to all parties and all communities in an effort to find a solution," he said during a pre-Christmas media briefing.

He added: "One thing I have said in the past is that, when we designed the protocol, when it was originally negotiated, perhaps it was a little bit too strict.

"And we've seen that the protocol has worked without it being fully enforced.

"And that's why I think there is room for flexibility and room for changes and we're open to that and up for that, and I know from speaking to (European Commission) President (Ursula) von der Leyen and (EC vice president) Maroš Šefčovič that's their position too.

"So, we are willing to show flexibility and to make compromises. We do want there to be an agreement.

"And, you know, I have spoken to a lot of people who come from a unionist background in Northern Ireland over the years.

"I do understand how they feel about the protocol. They feel that it diminishes their place in the union, that it creates barriers between Britain and Northern Ireland that didn't exist before.

"And I do understand that and I do get that. But that's also true of Brexit.

"Brexit was imposed on Northern Ireland without cross-community consent, without the support of the majority of people in Northern Ireland, and one of the good things about the European Union was that it diminished barriers and diminished borders between north and south and that was a great reassurance to people who come from a nationalist background in particular.

"So I understand that there are two sides to this story.

"A lot of people who are unionists feel that the protocol has separated them from Great Britain.




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