Irish government stumbles as post-Brexit election looms

DUBLIN (AFP) – As political chaos reigned across the sea in Britain, Ireland’s two main parties have been working together to limit the damage of Brexit – but not for much longer.

The alliance is cracking and both are now preparing for an election early next year, with Prime Minister Leo Varadkar’s ruling Fine Gael party in a ramshackle state.

Beset by scandal, the centre-right party may even be forced from power before its pact with the main opposition Fianna Fail expires.

But Varadkar could win a boost if Britain, which holds its own election tomorrow, can break the political deadlock over leaving the European Union.

As Britain’s closest neighbour, European Union (EU) member Ireland stands most to lose from a disorderly divorce.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson during a campaign visit to Ferguson’s Transport in Washington, England. PHOTO: AP

Fianna Fail initially agreed to prop up Varadkar’s Fine Gael-led minority government in 2016, and the two sides pledged to extend the alliance through 2019 as Brexit headwinds grew worse.

Britain’s EU exit risks huge economic disruption across the Irish Sea, particularly when it appeared earlier this year that it might leave the bloc with no new arrangements in place.

But if Prime Minister Boris Johnson is re-elected this week with a parliamentary majority, he promises to get Britain out of the bloc on January 31 with a deal.

The end to this period of prolonged uncertainty could give Varadkar a popularity boost, as the leader who avoided a no-deal divorce.

An October Irish Times/Ipsos MRBI found Varadkar had a 51 per cent approval rating after key Brexit talks with Johnson, up 15 points in five months.