Monday 16 September 2019

'Boris Johnson has put forward no proposals to replace backstop' - Simon Coveney tells private meeting

  • Scottish court finds Boris Johnson's prorogation plans is lawful
  • British PM to take parliamentary questions at 12.30pm
  • Planned takeover of parliament set for 3pm
  • Leo Varadkar's meeting with Boris Johnson next week now in doubt
Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London. PA Photo. Picture date: Wednesday September 4, 2019. See PA story POLITICS PMQs Johnson. Photo credit should read: House of Commons/PA Wire
Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons, London. PA Photo. Picture date: Wednesday September 4, 2019. See PA story POLITICS PMQs Johnson. Photo credit should read: House of Commons/PA Wire
Vote: Prime Minister Boris Johnson wants to hold an election. Photo: ©UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/Handout via REUTERS
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

Tánaiste Simon Coveney has told a private meeting that the UK has put forward no proposals “at all” to replace the backstop since Boris Johnson took over as prime minister, Independent.ie can reveal.

Speaking to a ‘business breakfast’ in Wicklow, where there were no media present, Mr Coveney gave his most frank assessment of the Brexit scenario so far.

Sources inside the room told Independent.ie that the Tánaiste was blunt in his commentary.

An audience of around 200 people were told: “Not only do we not have a credible and legally sound proposal to the backstop coming from Boris Johnson, the EU has seen no proposal at all in fact.”

Mr Johnson has claimed progress towards alternative arrangements was being made and the EU was ceding ground.

Mr Coveney said the Irish position has remained “clear” and “consistent”, adding that it will not be changing despite the dramatics in Westminster.

Tánaiste Simon Coveney. Photo: REUTERS/Henry Nicholls/File Photo
Tánaiste Simon Coveney. Photo: REUTERS/Henry Nicholls/File Photo

“It’s based on fact and reality, not personalities,” he said.

“The UK could still crash out in 57 days. It’s a very, very real possibility and so we need businesses to keep up preparations,” the Tánaiste added.

READ MORE: Brext A to Z - Key terms related to Britain's exit from the EU explained

Last night, Ireland was thrown a Brexit lifeline after British MPs voted to seize control of the House of Commons from Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The spectre of a no-deal Brexit has receded for now following a historic shift of power.

However, what happens next remains unclear - and planned talks between Mr Johnson and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in Dublin next Monday are now in serious doubt. After suffering the humiliating defeat last night, Mr Johnson immediately warned of a snap election for Britain.

Meanwhile opposition parties - backed by 21 Conservative MPs - will now move legislation aimed at delaying Brexit until the end of January so that a deal can be agreed with the EU.

READ MORE: Brext A to Z - Key terms related to Britain's exit from the EU explained

Contempt: Jacob Rees-Mogg sparked fury in the House of Commons by reclining on a bench during the debate
Contempt: Jacob Rees-Mogg sparked fury in the House of Commons by reclining on a bench during the debate

The remarkable turn of events is being closely watched here, where ministers were quietly pleased with the result.

But Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe cautioned there is no guarantee the EU will grant another Brexit extension beyond October 31.

It came on a day when US Vice President Mike Pence made it clear the Trump administration backs Mr Johnson in the stand-off with the EU.

Government sources said a 328 votes to 301 defeat for the UK government showed "once again" that a majority of British politicians don't support a disorderly Brexit.

But they remain nervous about the unpredictable nature of politics in the UK.

Mr Donohoe said the British government will need to present "a very significant political rationale" for pushing the deadline beyond October 31.

"The European Council and the European Commission have said that were another extension to be looked for, there would have to be a very significant political rationale for it and it is yet to be seen what that rationale would be," he said.

During a heated debate in London, Mr Johnson had argued he would not be "running up the white flag".

But even the threat of being dropped from the party's election ticket failed to stop MPs deserting their leader.

Afterwards, the prime minister said: "I don't want an election but if MPs vote to stop negotiations and to compel another pointless delay to Brexit potentially for years then that will be the only way to resolve this."

Mr Johnson now wants to hold a general election on October 14 but even that might now be blocked by parliament. UK law means two-thirds of MPs must support the collapsing of parliament outside of the normal election schedule.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn indicated he wants legislation blocking a no-deal Brexit passed before he will open the door on an election.

He said the prime minister has "no mandate, no morals and, as of today, no majority".

At one point during extraordinary series of exchanges in the House of Commons, the impact of Charles Stewart Parnell was evoked.

Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg compared those trying to wrest control from the Government to the Home Rule leader.

"The approach taken today is the most unconstitutional use of this house since the days of Charles Stewart Parnell when he tried to bung up parliament," he said.

Even ahead of the debate, Mr Johnson lost his working majority as Phillip Lee, a former justice minister, crossed the floor and sat with the Lib Dems.

Much of the debate centred on the backstop, which the EU is continuing to strongly defend as the only way to maintain an open border on this island.

Mr Johnson insists it must be scrapped, and tried to reassure MPs that process was being made in that direction. The EU says his government has failed to put forward any concrete alternatives.

But Ken Clarke, the former Conservative finance minister, said the vast majority of the English public have "no idea" what the Irish backstop is.

The Tory grandee and longest serving MP said he did not want to listen to "conspiracy theories".

"I don't think any of the English public - sadly - take any interest in Irish political affairs," Mr Clarke told parliament.

"Nine out of 10 have no idea what the Irish backstop is."

Mr Clarke will now lose the Tory whip, as will another former chancellor, Philip Hammond, who warned party chiefs they face the "fight of a lifetime" if they try to prevent him from running in the next election.

Meanwhile, this morning, a Scottish court ruled that Mr Johnson's prorogation of UK parliament is lawful.

Irish Independent

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