US President Donald Trump meets with Prime Minister Leo Varadkar at Shannon airport, Ireland, June 5 2019. Picture: GETTY IMAGES
US President Donald Trump meets with Prime Minister Leo Varadkar at Shannon airport, Ireland, June 5 2019. Picture: GETTY IMAGES

Shannon — Donald Trump, arriving in Ireland for the first time as US president on Wednesday, sought to reassure the country that Britain’s exit from the European Union would work out fine for its neighbour.

Prime Minister Leo Varadkar used a meeting with Trump, who has been a vocal supporter of Brexit, to underline Ireland’s concerns over the departure that could impact it more than any other country remaining in the 28-member bloc.

How to keep EU-member Ireland’s 500km border with Northern Ireland open after Brexit and ensure it does not jeopardise two decades of peace in the British province is proving the most intractable issue in Britain’s tortuous efforts to leave the EU.

Before meeting Varadkar, Trump said he expected the premier would ask him about Brexit and it would all work out “very well” for Ireland.

“The way it (the border) works now is good, you want to try and keep it that way and I know that’s a big point of contention with respect to Brexit. I’m sure it’s going to work out well,” Trump told reporters.

Nearly 3,600 people were killed during Northern Ireland’s “Troubles”, a sectarian conflict between mainly Protestant unionists, who want Northern Ireland to remain part of the UK, and predominantly Catholic Irish nationalists.

The 1998 Good Friday peace deal, which the US helped broker, largely ended the violence.

While Trump on Tuesday promised Britain a “phenomenal” post-Brexit trade deal, US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi used a visit to both sides of the Irish border last month to warn her fellow legislators would not agree to any such deal if Brexit ends up undermining peace in Ireland.

Varadkar said after meeting Trump that the president understood Brexit cannot result in the return of a hard border on the island. He added the timing of their meeting was important as Trump would have heard “a certain story” from pro-Brexit legislators during the first stop-off of his European trip in Britain.

“He wants to keep that (the border) open and believes that can be done. We didn’t go into any particular details as to how he thinks that can be done but he understands that has to be a shared objective,” Varadkar said.

Trump said in his remarks that Ireland and the US have a great relationship, “as good as it’s been”.

Varadkar posted a picture on Twitter of a guest book the president and first lady Melania Trump had signed that included the message “I love your country!” The word “love” was underlined.

Varadkar, who had opposed extending an invitation to Trump as a cabinet minister before changing his mind when he took over as prime minister in 2017, met Trump on the tarmac at Shannon Airport and said it was a great pleasure to welcome him to Ireland.

Low key visit

After being feted by Queen Elizabeth and other members of the royal family during his state visit to Britain, Trump’s trip to Ireland will be far more low key, with the president spending almost all of his time at one of his golf resorts.

Demonstrators protested over Trump’s visit, as they had in Britain. A small crowd of about 200 protesters gathered at a “peace camp” set up outside Shannon Airport for the duration of the trip. A larger demonstration is planned for Dublin on Thursday.

Trump took part on Wednesday in events in southern Britain marking the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy. He heads to France on Thursday for a D-Day commemoration there, before a round of golf and returning to Washington on Friday.