Saturday 20 July 2019

Ireland and EU will react in a 'positive way' if Britain revises red-line Brexit demands - Coveney

Common ground: Tánaiste Simon Coveney. Photo: Justin Farrelly
Common ground: Tánaiste Simon Coveney. Photo: Justin Farrelly

Ralph Riegel

TANAISTE Simon Coveney vowed that Ireland and the EU will react in "a positive and helpful way" if Britain now revises some of it red-line Brexit demands to Brussels at the eleventh hour.

Mr Coveney stressed that, should Britain revise red-line demands over the future relationship with the EU and issues such as Single Market alignment, the Irish back-stop may effectively be removed as a thorny issue in the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement negotiations.

The Cork TD also warned that it was now vital Westminster sets out clearly what Britain wants with just 70 days left until Britain is set to leave the EU.

"I think if it is possible to see a change in the red lines that the British Government have outlined in relation to the conditions of Brexit that they are looking for, then the context around the future relationship discussion and therefore any potential use of the back-stop in the future could change quite significantly," he said.

"Michel Barnier has been quite clear this week as have I and the Taoiseach - if Britain chooses to change its red lines I would like to think that the EU is ready to respond to that in a positive way and in a helpful way.

"But that is a matter for the British parliament which of course the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) are part of."

Mr Coveney refused to comment on suggestions the DUP were now softening their stance on Brexit following the chaotic scenes in Westminster over the past week and mounting fears over what will happen in Northern Ireland if Britain crashes out of the EU without a withdrawal deal.

"I know the DUP well enough to know that if I encourage them in a direction, they may go in the other direction," Mr Coveney said.

"I am not going to say anything about the DUP - they will make their own decisions.

"They are one party in Northern Ireland, the largest party. Obviously they have been a big part of the debate in Westminster because they have 10 seats there.

"I respect the DUP and recognise that they have a view - it is not a view that I share in relation to their concerns about the back-stop.

"For me, the back-stop is about a protection for everybody.

"It is a fall-back position - it is an insurance mechanism. To reassure people, Unionist and Nationalist, on this island and in Northern Ireland in particular that they are not going to face the impact of the consequences of border infrastructure in the future. That is all it is.

"Nobody wants to ever use it because we want a comprehensive future relationship that makes it unnecessary.

"Should it ever be used, the intention is only to use it on a temporary basis until something more permanent is agreed.

"Our position on the back-stop remains consistent. The EU position remains in complete solidarity with Ireland and that is why you have heard Michel Barnier, Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker all saying that the Withdrawal Agreement is not up for renegotiation and that the back-stop is part of that."

The Tanaiste warned it was important no one lecture Britain about domestic politics.

"I don't think we should be telling anybody what to do here," he said.

"This is a sovereign parliament - it is extraordinary in some ways that with just over 70 days to go to formally leave the EU we still don't know what a majority of MPs in Westminster are willing to vote for.

"We know that they don't want a 'no deal' Brexit but we don't know what they do want.

"It is not for me to make that judgement (Theresa May reaching out to other UK parties) - my understanding is that she is reaching out now.

"My hope is that both large parties, in particular, will talk to each other seriously about how to move forward.

"Any stand-offs that may be there will end quickly because the decisions that are made in Britain impact more than on Britain and British people.

"They certainly impact on their closest neighbour in a very major way.

"Everybody wants to see progress here.

"There are options now - the Prime Minister will outline how she intends to proceed in Westminster on Monday.

"My understanding is that she is going to table a motion that is amendable and that motion won't be voted on until January 29.

"I think we will see a lot of political movement in that time in terms of the direction of travel of the British Parliament and British Government.

"But until we know what the British Parliament and British Government are actually asking for, it is very hard for the EU to respond generously to that.

"The one thing that is very clear is that EU unity is not going to change - EU solidarity on the Irish issues, because they are EU issues as well, is not going to change.

"We do want to be helpful to find a way forward that is good for Britain and that is good for the EU.

"We are going to have to work together in the future post-Brexit. Nobody wants a crash out Brexit where the relationships between Britain and Ireland and Britain and the EU in general are strained for the foreseeable future. That is not what is needed.

"I hope that we will see a really pro-active effort in the British Parliament to move things forward and away from the concerns of a 'no deal' Brexit and towards a compromise that can get majority support in the British Parliament.

"Of course, when that happens we will respond in as constructive a way as we can but also in a way that is consistent with what we have been saying for the last two years.

"We have been focused on trying to protect the island of Ireland as a whole and the interests of everybody living here - as well as the interests of Irish people living in the UK."

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