Tuesday 18 June 2019

Bertie Ahern: 'Ireland can't give an inch on avoiding hard border'

Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern. Photo: INM
Former taoiseach Bertie Ahern. Photo: INM
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has warned that Ireland "can't give an inch" on measures to avoid a post-Brexit hard border in Ireland.

Mr Ahern has said that Brexiteers in the UK have "copped on late" that they could be stuck with the so-called backstop to avoid a border with Northern Ireland "for a long-time".

A House of Commons vote on the proposed Withdrawal Agreement between British Prime Minister Theresa May's government and the European Union was cancelled last week as it was clear it would not win enough support.

A vote on the issue has been postponed until next month.

The backstop issue has dominated the debate in Westminster with Brexiteers vehemently against the measure claiming it would trap the UK in the EU.

Mr Ahern said: "We can’t give an inch on it" adding "we do not want a return to the borders of the past".

Speaking on RTÉ Radio he said he supports the Irish government's approach and denied Ireland is being "difficult" on the issue.

He warned that a no-deal scenario would mean there would have to be a hard border with all the paperwork and security that would bring.

He added that he didn't want to mention the words "trouble and violence" in relation to a return to border controls.

Mr Ahern said he has sympathy for Mrs May for the opposition she faces in her bid to get support for the Withdrawal Agreement in parliament.

But he said she has made "a lot of mistakes".

He listed her decision to call a snap election which meant she lost a Commons majority and triggering the Article 50 process of leaving the EU when she "had no plan".

Read more: Any decision on Brexit deal will happen in New Year - UK trade minister

Meanwhile, Tanaiste Simon Coveney said that Britain would likely have to delay its departure from the European Union or rescind its exit notification "for the moment" if it wanted to put an "entirely new" Brexit proposal forward.

"If there is an entirely new proposal coming from the UK, I think undoubtedly it would need a lot more time to be considered on the EU side and that would probably involve an extension of Article 50 or pulling Article 50 for the moment," Coveney told RTE when asked how the EU would react to a British parliamentary majority for an alternative to the current deal.

"But I think that would be a big decision for the UK to make and (British Prime Minister) Theresa May has said she doesn't want to do that," Coveney said.

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