The two Tory MPs fighting it out for the seat in No.10 did not exactly receive a ringing endorsement from a top Irish politician on Tuesday.
Leo Varadkar, formerly the Taoiseach (Irish PM) and now the Tanaiste (Irish deputy PM), said he was not hopeful that Boris Johnson’s replacement would be able to repair the tensions between the UK and Ireland.
Speaking to the TV breakfast show, Ireland: am, Varadkar also nodded to the chaos which has enveloped the UK government in recent months, adding: “Look, it’s a funny country at the moment, but we’ll do our best to work with them as best we can.”
Varadkar negotiated the Northern Ireland Protocol with Johnson back in 2019.
It was hailed as a breakthrough amid deadlocked trade talks for how Northern Ireland would operate after Brexit. The region would continue to follow the same EU trade rules as the Republic of Ireland to prevent a hard trade border between the two, and instead there would be a trade barrier in the Irish Sea.
It was opposed by unionists for separating Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK, but meant tensions on the island of Ireland could be avoided.
Now, the UK is looking to back out of the agreement because unionists are refusing to sit in Northern Ireland’s devolved government over the trade disruptions the protocol has brought.
Varadkar said: “We will do our best to reset relations, but what the Conservative Party has fundamentally done is two things: they still seem to want a row with Brussels, and that makes an agreement on the protocol very hard.
“A row with Brussels plays well with the base, plays well with the tabloids newspapers, unfortunately.
“Secondly, they’re not even-handed with dealing with Northern Ireland. They’re very much siding with one block of opinion, the unionists, over the other blocks of opinion.
“Until that changes, I don’t think the personality or the identity of the individual is actually going to matter all that much.”
Asked whether the relationship between Ireland and the UK could get any worse, he side-stepped the question and said: “There’s a deal to be done on the protocol, but the problem we have is we don’t know if they want a deal.
“Because a deal means compromising with those ‘awful people’ in Brussels, which goes down really badly with those Conservative Party members. So, any deal could be problem for the British prime minister because a deal, by definition, means a compromise.”
He said that Ireland will continue to “work really hard” no matter what the situation is.
Truss, as the current foreign secretary, has taken a strong line against the EU, and did suggest scrapping the protocol completely while accusing the bloc of “intransigence”.
Sunak has been less vocal about his thoughts on the protocol, but has suggested the government’s priority is a negotiated settlement with the EU.