Irish PM's party primed for snap election if Brexit sealed - party sources

By Padraic Halpin
FILE PHOTO: EU leaders summit in Brussels

By Padraic Halpin

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Supporters of Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar will urge him to call a snap election if Britain can seal its departure from the European Union, four members of his Fine Gael party told Reuters.

Varadkar's minority government, run via a cooperation deal with the main opposition Fianna Fail party, was supposed to last only until the end of 2018 but its lifespan was extended as Dublin took on a pivotal role in Brexit talks.

Varadkar could try to capitalise on what is likely to be hailed in Ireland as a diplomatic success if on Saturday British lawmakers ratify the Brexit deal reached with the EU and leave by the end of October, the four members said.

The centre-right Fine Gael are primed for an election, they said on condition of anonymity as Varadkar has publicly stated he wants to hold a poll next May.

A fifth party source said that a lot of colleagues had discussed the prospect of an election this week though he expected Varadkar to stick to the May 2020 timetable.

Asked about the clamour among lawmakers and party supporters to hold an election if the Brexit agreement is passed, one of the first four party sources said: "It's significant."

"When we thought about going on previous occasions, there was some kickback. There doesn't seem to be any amongst colleagues. I imagine they are going home this weekend and getting their troops together," the source said.

If British Prime Minister Boris Johnson fails to win Saturday's vote in parliament, continued Brexit instability would shut the window for a snap poll in Ireland, all five said.


SURGE IN RATINGS

Varadkar has more reason to call an election if British parliament backs the deal on Saturday because his approval rating rose 15 points to 51% in an opinion poll following a meeting with Johnson last week that preceded the Brexit breakthrough.

The 40-year-old premier's personal rating has shot up at any potential sign of success during the Brexit talks and the poll suggested he was by far the country's most popular leader.

"I think there is a very strong growing sense among our side that it would be a natural time for an election," another of the lawmakers said. "Obviously there are lots of ifs and buts in there but if tomorrow's vote is passed, I'd be putting a few quid on there being an election."

Varadkar must hold four by-elections by the end of November anyway. Sending all 158 lawmakers back to the polls instead may limit the focus on his government's patchy record on big domestic issues such as housing and healthcare, which could be front and centre with Brexit long forgotten in six months time.

Fianna Fail has been neck and neck with Fine Gael in most polls, and whoever edges ahead at the next election is likely to lead another minority government. Fianna Fail has said it is ready if Varadkar wants to go to the polls.

"Whilst credit I'm sure will be given for the approach taken by the Taoiseach (prime minister), there will also be credit for the position taken by Fianna Fail for supporting the government through that (Brexit)," Fianna Fail frontbench member Timmy Dooley told national broadcaster RTE.

"But then there will be very serious questions asked of the outgoing government around the state of homelessness, hospital overcrowding and the myriad of issues that people will elect the next government on. Over the course of a 21-day campaign, it will pivot very quickly."


(Editing by Timothy Heritage)