Tuesday 17 September 2019

McEntee rejects predecessor Creighton's five-year limit idea over the backstop

Former Fine Gael TD and minister Lucinda Creighton. Picture: Gerry Mooney
Former Fine Gael TD and minister Lucinda Creighton. Picture: Gerry Mooney
Hugh O'Connell

Hugh O'Connell

European Affairs Minister Helen McEntee has hit back at the suggestion by one of her predecessors that the Government should agree to a five-year time limit on the backstop.

Ms McEntee was responding to a suggestion by Lucinda Creighton, the former Fine Gael TD and minister, that the Government must compromise on the controversial backstop, which guarantees no hard Border on the island of Ireland.

The UK government has demanded it be removed from the Brexit withdrawal deal in the wake of Boris Johnson becoming prime minister.

Ms Creighton wrote at the weekend that a time limit would avoid a damaging crash-out Brexit in less than seven weeks' time.

"We must compromise and offer a five-year time limit on the backstop to avoid economic devastation," she wrote in the 'Sunday Business Post'.

The suggestion by the former European affairs minister, who served in the role between 2011 and 2013, and close friend of Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, was leapt upon by some Brexit-supporting commentators in the UK in recent days.

But Ms McEntee said yesterday that a "backstop with a time limit ceases to be a backstop".

Speaking to reporters in Portlaoise, she said: "It exists as an insurance mechanism.

"It's there based on the fact that the UK has decided to leave the EU. It's based on the fact that they have laid down red lines, that they are leaving the single market and the customs union and it's based on the commitments they have made to protect the Good Friday Agreement, protect the invisible Border but also to protect the all-island economy.

"We have always said if there are other options, if there are other ways to deal with all of those commitments - to address all of our concerns - then we are very willing to listen to them.

"However, the backstop is a necessary legal guarantee for all of us to make sure that those commitments are fulfilled.

"What's being asked of us at the moment is to remove that legal guarantee, to replace it with nothing but a commitment to try and find some other solution. So for us adding a time limit essentially ceases, stops it from being that insurance mechanism policy that has been committed to."

The Fine Gael minister declined to be drawn on whether it was helpful for a former government minister to be calling for a time limit.

"I think there have been lots of comments and lots of commentary over the past three years on all parts of the negotiations," she said.

She also said that given Mr Johnson had called for the backstop to be abolished, it is not clear that offering a time limit would get support in the UK. Ms McEntee also rejected suggestions that the withdrawal deal as it currently stands is dead and said the UK was the only party to the negotiations on Brexit that could take no deal off the table.

Irish Independent

Also in Business