Coveney claims report of secret deal to keep UK in customs union after Brexit is 'unhelpful commentary'
EU support remains "unwavering" and no private concessions have been made on the Irish border, Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has said.
Mr Coveney was speaking after a story in the 'Sunday Times' newspaper reported on British Prime Theresa May's "secret plan" to secure a Brexit deal, which would get support from Remain and Brexit MPs.
The article claimed Mrs May had "secured private concessions from Brussels that will allow her to keep the whole of Britain in a customs union, avoiding a hard border in Ireland".
The article also quoted a "senior Whitehall source" as saying "Ireland is f*****" in a new deal which the newspaper claims Mrs May will be unveiling soon, and is confident can attract support from parliament.
Mr Coveney said the article was written with a British audience in mind and such "running commentary" isn't helpful.
"The EU27 has been united through the Brexit process. The UK has given written commitments last December and March that the Withdrawal Agreement will give a legal guarantee of no return to a hard border in Ireland in any circumstance - this is the backstop," Mr Coveney said.
"In March the UK agreed this backstop will apply 'unless and until' a close future relationship eliminates any need for border infrastructure or related checks and controls. We want the EU and UK to get to negotiating that close future deal but the UK must first deliver on the commitments of leaving.
"The EU support to Ireland has been and remains unwavering.
"The negotiators are working hard and a running commentary isn’t helpful. Today’s Sunday Times piece is obviously aimed at a UK audience.
"However Donald Tusk, Michel Barnier, Jean Claude Juncker and indeed Theresa May herself, have all said there will not be a deal without a legal guarantee of no hard border in Ireland.
"We hope a deal can be done but we’re not there yet.”
The article states that the EU will write an all-UK customs deal into the legally binding withdrawal agreement from the EU. If this happens, the 'backstop' - designed by the EU and which treats Northern Ireland as different from the rest of the UK - will no longer be required.
The report states sources in Whitehall are confident this strand will placate Remainers.
As for the Eurosceptics, Mrs May was reported to be on course to secure a "future economic partnership" with the EU that will allow Britain to keep open the prospect of entering into a future trade deal that would resemble the agreement struck between the EU and Canada.
The article quotes a senior Whitehall source as saying: "The PM will be able to say there's no more backstop, we've got rid of that - success. There's an exit mechanism - success. And you've got Canada - success. The small print is that Ireland is f*****".