Tuesday 26 September 2017

UK government 'not in the right mental space' over border

Foreign Minister Simon Coveney. Picture: PA
Foreign Minister Simon Coveney. Picture: PA
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has ramped up the war of words with Britain by branding its Brexit plans for the Northern Ireland border as "neither imaginative nor flexible".

Mr Coveney pointedly said he does not believe Theresa May's government is in the right "mental space" to address the political sensitivities of the border following the UK decision to leave the EU.

"The last thing I want to do is pick a fight with Britain - but at the same time we will not allow being brushed aside what are genuine and very real concerns," Mr Coveney told the Sunday Independent.

The minister sparked a row with Unionists after he suggested the UK's custom checks with the EU should be in ports and airports rather than the Northern Ireland border. Yesterday, Mr Coveney said Britain made the decision to leave - and now the onus was on Mrs May and her Cabinet to find solutions to the consequences it posed for other countries.

"We need a unique solution for Northern Ireland. Saying we are going to put cameras on the border and make this as seamless as possible is neither imaginative nor flexible," he said. "Ireland needs to be very clear on that, so the British government understands the real sensitivities here and the political priority of this issue for Ireland," he added.

He insisted Ireland would not accept a "compensation package" in exchange for reintroducing of a border. He said he would "not lecture" Mrs May - but added that political frictions in the Tory Party were impacting on Brexit talks.

His comments follow those of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who last week told Britain that Ireland would not help design a border which they do not believe should exist. He added that Ireland, not the UK, should feel angry about Brexit.

Former Northern Ireland First Minister David Trimble later weighed into the debate and told Mr Varadkar to "calm down". Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern said Britain had not proposed a realistic solution to deal with the border issue.

Yesterday EU Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan said he was "very disappointed" by Britain's reaction to Brexit.

"It beggars belief to see the type of inconsistency and lack of co-ordination that we see at the moment from the UK side," Mr Hogan said.

Northern Ireland is being examined carefully by EU officials and it will be discussed during the next round of Brexit talks.

EU officials are seeking to find a solution to maintaining Ireland's common travel area with Britain while also ensuring the terms of the Good Friday Agreement are maintained. The terms include EU peace funds and cross-border health service arrangements.

Sunday Independent

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