Tuesday 17 September 2019

'Ireland in eye of storm' over Brexit admits Simon Coveney but he warns withdrawal agreement won't be renegotiated

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney. Photo: Collins
Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney. Photo: Collins
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris Photo credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (Michael Sohn/AP)
Cormac McQuinn

Cormac McQuinn

Tánaiste Simon Coveney has said Ireland is "in the eye of the storm" when it comes to Brexit, but insisted the Withdrawal Agreement with the UK won't be renegotiated.

His comments came after a meeting with Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod and as British Prime Minister Boris Johnson met the French President Emmanuel Macron.

Last night Mr Johnson had talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin which saw him say he has 30 days to persuade the EU of a viable alternative to the contentious backstop to avoid a hard border in Ireland.

Chancellor Merkel's remarks have been seized on by Brexit-supporting elements of the British press as indicating that the EU would consider getting rid of the backstop.

The Government here is said to be "quite relaxed" about Mr Johnson's interpretation of the remarks made by Mrs Merkel.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (Michael Sohn/AP)

A source said the backstop had always been an insurance mechanism that was hoped would never have to be used.

They added that the Withdrawal Agreement already says it can be replaced if a workable solution to avoiding border infrastructure is brought forward, but no such solution has been found so far.

"Let's see what London comes up with in 30 days and put it to the test of preventing border infrastructure and related checks," said the source.

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UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris Photo credit: Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

In Paris today Mr Macron told Mr Johnson that the EU won't tear up the Brexit deal negotiated by his predecessor, Theresa May.

He did back the 30-day timescale suggested by Mrs Merkel for solutions to be put forward, but warned that the backstop was indispensable.

Mr Macron also said: "We will not find a new Withdrawal Agreement within 30 days that will be very different from the existing one."

READ MORE: 'Backstop is not just legal quibbling' - Emmanuel Macron warns Boris Johnson EU won't tear up Withdrawal Agreement

In remarks made in Denmark, Mr Coveney did not directly refer to the 30-days issue, but said the EU would listen to UK suggestions while not renegotiating the Withdrawal Agreement.

"The British government has said it wants to look at alternative arrangements that can do the same job as the backstop and of course we will listen to that and I think other European countries will do so too because we all want to avoid a no-deal Brexit," he said.

"But I think the messaging is clear, it’s consistent and its been firm from the EU that the deals that have been put together through many, many hours and days and weeks and months of negotiation are not going to be brushed aside now in an effort to get a deal."

READ MORE: Kevin Doyle: 'Dublin and Brussels know full well what no deal will mean - but won't say it out loud yet'

He said that Brexit was an "extraordinary disruptor" and a delicate balance was struck with the Withdrawal Agreement, which is something the EU is "not willing to unwind".

He added that the solidarity shown by the remaining EU member states has been "very strong on that".

Mr Coveney said efforts will be made to reach an agreement with the UK by the October 31 Brexit deadline but said: "There are commitments that have been made that need to be followed through on."

"Ireland, unfortunately, is in the eye of the storm here because it’s issues on the island of Ireland that seem to be the source of disagreement at the moment.

"We’ll work to try to change that, but I do want to make it very clear that the Withdrawal Agreement is not up for renegotiation."

READ MORE: Explainer: Can an alternative to the Brexit backstop be found in 30 days?

Last night Ms Merkel described the backstop as a “fallback position” that would only come into effect if no other solution could be found to protect the integrity of the EU single market.

“If one is able to solve this conundrum, if one finds this solution - we said we would probably find it in the next two years to come but we can also maybe find it in the next 30 days to come - then we are one step further in the right direction and we have to obviously put our all into this,” she said.

Mr Johnson said he was happy to come up with alternative arrangements and told Mrs Merkel: “You [Ms Merkel] rightly say the onus is on us to produce those solutions, those ideas, to show how we can address the issue of the Northern Irish border and that is what we want to do."

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