US President Donald Trump voiced confidence Wednesday that Ireland’s post-Brexit “wall” situation with its UK neighbour will work out fine, earning a quick retort from the Irish premier who noted that a wall is the last thing his country wants.
In a meeting held at Shannon airport after a reported dispute over the location for the talks, Trump compared the border between Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK, and the Republic of Ireland, to the US border with Mexico.
The border between Northern Ireland and Ireland is unmarked allowing free movement of goods and people as both states are EU members. Trump has vowed to build a wall to better seal the Mexico border to stop illegal immigration.
Speaking with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar in Shannon, southwest Ireland, Trump — who flew there after a state visit to Britain — raised the subject of the UK’s European Union exit and the Irish border.
“I think it will all work out very well, and also for you with your wall, your border. I mean, we have a border situation in the United States, and you have one over here,” he said.
Varadkar responded: “I think one thing we want to avoid, of course, is a wall or border between us.”
Trump then replied: “I think you do. The way it works now is good, you want to try and to keep it that way.
“That’s a big point of contention with respect to Brexit. I’m sure it’s going to work out very well. I know they’re focused very heavily on it.“
Brexit has prompted concerns that new checks will be erected at the island’s frontier, providing a potential target for attacks and upsetting the fragile peace in Northern Ireland.
Following the meeting, Varadkar attempted to excuse Trump’s apparent lack of understanding of the Irish border.
“He’s the president of America and there are nearly 200 countries in the world, so I don’t think it’s possible for him to have an in-depth and detailed understanding of issues in every single country,” he told reporters.
“I used the opportunity of this meeting and previous meetings to point out the issues for Ireland that arise from Brexit.“
British Prime Minister Theresa May’s government struck a deal with Brussels to keep open the border by keeping Britain economically close to the EU.
But the so-called “backstop” plan was rejected by her own lawmakers, forcing her to resign and leaving the entire Brexit process in chaos.
Britain is due to leave the EU on October 31.
Trump was asked whether he thought Brexit would be bad for Ireland, to which he replied: “I think it should be good.”
The lead-up to the meeting between Trump and Varadkar was made fraught by the question of where the pair would meet.
The Irish press reported Trump proposed a meeting at his golf resort in Doonbeg on Ireland’s west coast, where he will stay on Wednesday and Thursday night, whilst Varadkar preferred a nearby castle to avoid promoting the president’s private interests.
Shannon Airport was eventually settled as a compromise, with Wednesday’s meeting held in the VIP lounge.