Wednesday 18 September 2019

Boris Johnson trying to rewrite the rules on EU withdrawal, says Simon Coveney

Tánaiste Simon Coveney. Photo: REUTERS/Henry Nicholls/File Photo
Tánaiste Simon Coveney. Photo: REUTERS/Henry Nicholls/File Photo
Hugh O'Connell

Hugh O'Connell

Tánaiste Simon Coveney has accused Boris Johnson of looking to "rewrite the rules" and dismissed suggested alternatives to the backstop as the Government continues to ramp-up its no-deal Brexit preparations.

Mr Coveney struck a notably pessimistic tone on a trip to the Czech Republic yesterday and sharply criticised Mr Johnson, who has demanded the backstop be removed from the withdrawal deal.

The Irish Government's no-deal preparations are intensifying further with 64 days left until the UK is due to leave the EU.

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe has warned the "risk of a no-deal Brexit is growing".

Mr Coveney was highly critical of Mr Johnson, who became UK prime minister last month, on a visit to Prague.

"Now we have a new prime minister who is essentially looking to rewrite the rules as regards that particular solution [the backstop] and that is threatening a no deal, having worked so hard to get a deal in place," he said.

Trade talks: British chancellor Sajid Javid welcomes US secretary of the treasury Steven Mnuchin to Downing Street. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Trade talks: British chancellor Sajid Javid welcomes US secretary of the treasury Steven Mnuchin to Downing Street. Photo: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

He said that while the Government was open to new alternatives that fulfil the same functions as the existing Withdrawal Agreement's backstop - the guarantee of no hard Border in Ireland in the event that the UK and the EU can't reach a future trade deal - none that had been put forward so far would be sufficient.

"I think we need to be honest here that the alternative arrangements that have been discussed to date do not do the same job as the backstop - not even close," he said.

"So let's not pretend that solutions exist when they might not, and so there needs to be a deal done on the basis of honesty in terms of there issue and the complexity of what we're facing."

He said Ireland would lose a powerful ally in the EU when Britain left.

Last-ditch plans: Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson addresses an event organised by the British opposition, aiming to prevent the suspension of parliament to force through a no-deal Brexit. Photo: REUTERS/Henry Nicholls
Last-ditch plans: Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson addresses an event organised by the British opposition, aiming to prevent the suspension of parliament to force through a no-deal Brexit. Photo: REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

"It will certainly be a different union for Ireland, it will be a weaker union," he said.

Mr Coveney was speaking after Mr Donohoe warned in Dublin there is a growing chance of a no-deal Brexit.

"As we look at the unfolding situation in the UK, the risk of a no-deal Brexit is growing," he said.

Mr Coveney was asked about Mr Johnson's move to suspend parliament by reporters after the conference.

He said: "My reaction is that this is a matter for the British Parliament.

"My focus is on trying to find a way of getting a deal that's consistent with the commitments that the British government has made over the last two years to Ireland and the European Union."

The Tánaiste said "it's hard to tell" whether the suspension will make a crash-out Brexit more likley.

He said: "It's hard to tell how the British political system will respond to that and really that's a matter for parliament."

"I've always been careful not to get involved in the parliamentary business of Westminster."

Mr Coveney said Brexit will have a "huge" disruptive impact on Ireland and there is a shared responsiblity with the British government to prtotect the Good Friday Agreement.

He referred to remarks made by Mr Barclay during his speech that Britain was willing to offer a "cast iron guarantee" to avoiding a hard border if the backstop is dropped and talks on the issue talk place during a transition period.

Mr Coveney said: "Unfortunately what we're hearing again from the British minister for Brexit is that Britain no longer seems to be committed to the approach [the backstop] that we know solves the problem at hand."

He said they want "everything to move forward... on the basis of a promise that we will try to deal with the complexities of these issues at some point in the future."

Mr Coveney added: "we can't give up on something we know works on the back of a promise like that."

Mr Donohoe said the Government would be making a judgment on the most likely Brexit scenario next month.

He said he expected there would be a review of where Brexit stands at next week's Cabinet meeting - the first after the summer break.

Earlier, Culture Minister Josepha Madigan struck a more hopeful tone and even claimed Mr Johnson could still back the Brexit withdrawal deal at the very last minute.

She said there was "a lot of posturing" going on in the current Brexit deadlock and said that despite the ongoing stalemate, there could be a deal at the very last minute, with Mr Johnson reversing his position.

"I do understand negotiations, I do understand that there is posturing, I do understand that people sometimes might say one thing in private and another thing in public," Ms Madigan said at an event in Dublin yesterday morning.

She said it "remains to be seen" whether Mr Johnson would follow through on his pledge to leave without a deal if necessary and suggested he could yet back the deal.

"Whether what he's saying is what he'll actually follow through with remains to be seen," she said.

"He did vote for the Withdrawal Agreement in the past, it may well be at the last minute that happens.

"Again, we'll just have to take each day as it comes and hope that sense will prevail."

Ms Madigan said it was possible the Brexit deadlock would not be resolved until the very last minute, and potentially as late as October 29 or 30.

She suggested that, despite the uncertainty this could create over the next few weeks, it would not be a bad outcome in the end.

"It wouldn't surprise me if we were, and if it were at that stage and we reached a deal, isn't that OK as well? We have (until) October 31, at the end of the day," she said.

Fianna Fáil Brexit spokesperson Lisa Chambers dismissed the suggestion of a U-turn by the prime minister.

She added: "Even if Mr Johnson did a major U-turn and backed the deal in its current form, I think the arithmetic of the Commons won't facilitate its passage.

"He can't bring back the same cooked dinner that he has continually and publicly turned his nose up at."

Irish Independent

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