Addressing the European Parliament in Strasbourg on January 17, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar slammed what he described as unfair accusations that Ireland was a tax haven.

“There’s a bit of hypocrisy about that when you look at the amount of money that we actually collect in terms of corporate taxes versus other countries that collect so much less but yet on paper have a higher tax rate and I think that needs to be challenged,” he told MEPs.

As reported by the Reuters news agency, Varadkar stressed that other countries like Hungary and Bulgaria charge companies lower rates than Ireland, and that France offered so many loopholes for some corporations that its effective rate could also be lower.

In 2016, the EU ordered Ireland to recover up to a record €13bn in back taxes from Apple and launched legal action in October over its failure to do so.

While Varadkar defended his government’s appeal to EU courts, he also told parliament Ireland would respect whatever decision the judges made and would start collecting the tax in the second quarter.

According to Reuters, Varadkar defended the right of smaller and peripheral states like Ireland to use taxation as part of competition to attract investment. But he added: “Corporations should pay their fair share of tax. We cannot tolerate a situation where large companies can avoid paying any taxes anywhere.”

In a separate report, The Irish Times noted that Varadkar also spoke about the future of the EU. He told MEPs the union was at a “decisive point in its history” and despite “the rise of populism and euroscepticism, nationalism and anti-democractic forces” he noted that the parliament was meeting in solidarity.

He also noted the work of Northern Ireland politician John Hume and his vision for a lasting peace based on people working together, with shared purpose and endeavour.

“Today, a peace bridge crossing the River Foyle brings together the divided communities in John’s native city of Derry, in Northern Ireland, a bridge that the European Union helped to build.”

Varadkar said it was hard to imagine the Belfast Agreement being made without shared membership of the European Union and the single market.

“In Ireland we are now having to contemplate our future without the foundation that underpinned it,” he said. “That is why the Irish Government has been so determined to protect the Good Friday Agreement, in all its parts, and in all that flows from it.

“It is why we have insisted that there can be no return to a hard Border on our island, no new barriers to the movement of people or to trade. And it is why we are so deeply grateful for the remarkable solidarity and support we have received from member states.”

In turn, MEPs reiterated their firm pledge to stand by Ireland in the Brexit negotiations so as to ensure full respect for the Good Friday agreement.