Friday 20 July 2018

Coveney warns Brexit is heading to 'crisis point'

Tánaiste is 'determined' the UK must come up with a way forward by June

Simon Coveney warned talks are a long way off concluding
Simon Coveney warned talks are a long way off concluding

Kevin Doyle and Shona Murray

Tánaiste Simon Coveney is privately briefing that Brexit is heading towards crisis point, the Irish Independent can reveal.

The Foreign Affairs Minister has warned negotiations aimed at resolving the future of the Irish Border are a long way from concluding.

In language which hasn't been used in public, he said: "If we're going to have a crisis we might as well have it now."

Mr Coveney told a behind-closed-doors meeting of Fine Gael TDs last night that he is determined a clear way forward must be presented by the UK ahead of the meeting of EU leaders in late June.

Sources confirmed that the Government view is if the UK is going to attempt to renege on the backstop option agreed last December then it should happen now rather than October.

The use of the word "crisis" by Mr Coveney is likely to attract attention in the UK where Prime Minister Theresa May (inset below) is struggling to find a Border proposal which her Cabinet can unite behind.

The Government is sceptical that a new plan by the British government on avoiding a Border after Brexit will bear fruit.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar insisted yesterday though that they are willing to discuss any credible solution to the impasse.

"We're absolutely open to considering an alternative text to the backstop if the British put that forward; and we've very open to dealing with the Border question through the new relationship between the UK and the EU," Mr Varadkar said.

The UK government is understood to be considering remaining in the EU customs union until such a time that it can develop the technology required to satisfy the commitment to avoiding a Border on the island of Ireland.

British Prime Minister Theresa May has been coming under intense pressure as yet another major Brexit milestone looms.

Speaking at an EU summit in Sofia, Mr Varadkar warned that progress must be made.

"Without the backstop there can be no withdrawal agreement, and there can be no transition for the UK."

Mrs May is supposed to deliver on an Irish/EU demand to come to Brussels with an agreeable version of the so-called backstop option for Brexit,

It must happen within the next couple of weeks in time for the June European Summit. The backstop option was negotiated between the EU and UK last December but Mrs May subsequently rejected it.

It ties Northern Ireland to the EU customs union and single market in the event that no other solution is to be found to avoid a hard Border.

Her partners in government, the DUP, as well as other Brexiteers gave it short shrift in February when Brussels translated it into a legally binding text.

As a result, the British government was asked to come up with its own legal version which would satisfy the political deal in December.

So this week a yet-to-be formally tabled 'third option' is being discussed by the Tory cabinet, which takes into account the spirit of the backstop, and moves towards a temporary solution to the Border.

The new idea involves the whole of the UK remaining in the customs union, and abiding by the relevant EU rules - mainly on goods crossing between the North and Ireland.

It could then buy some time where it could come up with a workable, technical solution to retaining the status quo on the Border.

The Tory Party has been at loggerheads over breaking from Brussels to develop an independent trade policy, while ensuring that there are no customs checks between Northern Ireland and the Irish State.

Irish Independent

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