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Coveney says Ireland won't stand in way of Britain delaying EU departure if it's justified

 

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Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Simon Coveney T.D. and German Federal Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas. Photo: Julian Behal

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Simon Coveney T.D. and German Federal Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas. Photo: Julian Behal

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Simon Coveney T.D. and German Federal Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas. Photo: Julian Behal

TÁNAISTE Simon Coveney has said Ireland won't stand in the way of Britain delaying their departure from the EU but said it must be justified.

There are reports today that British and European officials are discussing the possibility of extending Article 50 amid fears a Brexit deal will not be completed by March 29.

UK officials are said to be "putting out feelers" on delaying the departure as British Prime Minister Theresa May faces a major battle to get her Withdrawal Agreement with the EU through parliament.

Mr Coveney said the debate and vote on the deal in Westminster will be monitored and that the EU would provide assistance to Mrs May to give it the best possible chance of ratification by MPs.

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German Federal Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas and Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Simon Coveney T.D. Photo: Julien Behal

German Federal Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas and Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Simon Coveney T.D. Photo: Julien Behal

He added: "If it is the case that at some point in the future... that the British government seeks an extension of Article 50 then that’s obviously something that would have to get consideration at an EU level.

"Certainly from an Irish perspective if such an ask happens and is justified we won’t be standing in the way of that.

"But that is really a matter for the British government to make decisions on and my understanding is that Theresa May, the prime minister, has made it very clear she is not looking for an extension of Article 50.

"That is why I think all the focus now needs to be on the deal and providing the clarifications and reassurance around the detail of that deal in order to get it passed." 

He was speaking after both he and German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas delivered speechs to diplomats in Dublin Castle.

Both men urged British politicians to ratify British Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit deal with the EU amid continuing debate in Westminster.

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German Federal Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas. Photo: Julien Behal

German Federal Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas. Photo: Julien Behal

Mr Maas said the uncertainty over Brexit and cannot be taken lightly saying: "Brexit is less than three months away and the final outcome is still up in the air.

"Even a no-deal scenario is still an option – despite the serious damage that this would cause on both sides."

He said: "We urge our British friends to act responsibly and unite behind the agreement that we have spent so much time and effort negotiating."

Mr Maas said he would leave it to "book-makers and fortune tellers" to predict the results of discussions in London.

He said there are take-aways from the Brexit process.

One is the EU is "strong when we stand united" and this includes "full solidarity with Ireland"

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German Federal Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas and Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Simon Coveney T.D. Photo: Julien Behal

German Federal Foreign Minister, Heiko Maas and Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Simon Coveney T.D. Photo: Julien Behal

"We insisted, and still do, that a hard border dividing the Irish island is unacceptable.

"Some people called us stubborn. But the truth is: Avoiding a hard border in Ireland is a fundamental concern. It is a matter of principle, a question of identity for the European Union.

"A union that, more than anything else, serves one purpose: To build and maintain peace in Europe.

"As Germans, we understand how walls and borders can threaten peace.

"We believe in the peace-making power of European unity. A belief we share with you, the Irish. Your Good Friday Agreement is living proof of this principle. "

Meanwhile, Tánaiste Simon Coveney said he remains convinced that there is a majority in Westminster which will “do all it can to avert a disastrous, crash-out Brexit.”

But as the House of Commons continues to debate British Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit deal with the EU, Mr Coveney has warned politicians in London that “the time for wishful thinking is over”.

The Tánaiste said: “there will be no more important bilateral relationship for Ireland in the EU after Brexit than the one we enjoy with Germany.”

He said Germany is Ireland's fourth largest trading partner, third largest tourism market and second largest inward investor.

Mr Coveney and Mr Maas held talks this morning before attending the conference on the government's Global Ireland initiative.

During the talks he thanked Mr Maas for the solidarity shown by Germany on Brexit and both Ministers agreed on the need to maintain unity among the EU27.

In his speech to more than 80 diplomats, Mr Coveney said: “This solidarity has never been more evident" than during Brexit.

“In Germany, you understand borders all too well – both their symbolism and their corrosive impact on communities on both sides.

“And you know that our effort to ensure no physical infrastructure or associated checks and controls emerge on this island is borne of a determination never to return to the divisions of times past.

“Rather, it is one of the greatest Irish and British and indeed European achievements – an enduring peace, rooted in the Good Friday Agreement – which we have been striving at all times to protect and guarantee into the future despite Brexit.”

Referring to events in Westminster, Mr Coveney said: "These are fateful days and weeks in British politics.

“I remain convinced that there is a majority in the United Kingdom parliament which will do all it can to avert a disastrous crash-out Brexit for everyone.

“I am also of the view that the deal obtained by Prime Minister May - which, in relation to the now-famous backstop, was significantly modified to address UK concerns and red lines – that that deal is fundamentally a good one for both sides.”

The so-called backstop is the plan to avoid a hard border in Ireland until a comprehensive trade deal can be agreed between the UK and EU.

Mr Coveney said the European Council had provided reassurances about the backstop and the EU is ready to provide additional clarifications if these are helpful. But he said the Withdrawal Agreement text cannot be reopened.

In a message to Westminster politicians he said: “One thing is certain now – the time for wishful thinking is over.

“There is no alternative 585-page agreement waiting to be dusted off somewhere.

“And it is also wishful thinking to ignore the default outcome if nothing else is agreed. That default is a crash-out.

“Surely now is the time in Westminster for everyone - in government and in opposition - to cast aside unrealistic options based on promises that simply cannot be delivered.

“If that doesn’t happen quickly, in the absence of that realism, it is the hardliners who think no price is too high to pay for their version of Brexit who will win out to everyone’s cost, including Ireland’s.”

Online Editors