Postponement of deal to avoid a hard border on agenda, Howlin claims
A postponement of a deal on avoiding a hard border in Ireland is being discussed in European capitals, according to Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin.
He said it would be "naïve" of the Government not to be alert to the potential for a deferral of the Irish question to get a Brexit deal over the line.
His remarks met with an instant backlash from Tánaiste Simon Coveney who dismissed the claim insisting EU solidarity with Ireland is "as strong as it's ever been".
And Fine Gael MEP Mairead McGuinness claimed that at a sensitive stage in the Brexit talks Mr Howlin's remarks were "baseless and irresponsible".
It's understood Mr Howlin is basing his claims on contacts with other party leaders in Europe over recent days.
He raised fears that there have been suggestions that a deal on the so-called backstop to avoid a hard border in Ireland - even in the case of a no-deal Brexit - could be postponed.
Mr Howlin said he had been speaking to European colleagues and heard that prospect raised for the first time.
He said: "I think that is very dangerous for us and it's something that we have to resist."
Mr Coveney met the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier in Luxembourg yesterday. The Tánaiste insisted there is "no sense from any of the conversations that I have had with other EU foreign ministers that anybody is questioning or undermining the EU position on the Irish backstop". He added: "Quite the opposite in fact."
Mr Coveney said Mr Barnier told him he continues to have the "absolute support" of the 27 EU Member States on the approach to the issue of the Border.
He also said: "The solidarity is as strong as it's ever been, so I'm not sure what sources Brendan Howlin is actually getting information from but I suspect they are not as credible as the assurances that we're getting from the chief negotiator."
Despite the current impasse in talks, Mr Coveney said the Government was confident a deal for a "managed, sensible Brexit" can still be done, but added: "Clearly there is work still to do."
Mr Howlin last night said he was surprised by the Fine Gael reaction to his comments and claimed it displays "incredible naïvety". While he accepted there has been no break in the solidarity shown by the EU-27, questions are being asked.
"It would be foolish of the Government not to make it abundantly clear that there can be no postponement. They need to let everyone know there can be no deal without a definite, legally acceptable backstop."
He also said: "It is one minute to midnight on Brexit talks, and Fine Gael is now attacking me for pointing out the obvious.
"I clearly warned months ago that if no solution to the backstop was agreed, then in the rush to reach a withdrawal agreement, a solution to the Irish border might be fudged."