Thursday 17 October 2019

Support for Ireland’s position in Brexit talks 'stronger now than ever' - Coveney insists

Simon Coveney Photo: Steve Humphreys
Simon Coveney Photo: Steve Humphreys
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Gerry Mooney

Kevin Doyle and Cormac McQuinn

SUPPORT for Ireland’s position in the Brexit negotiations “is stronger now than it has ever been”, Tánaiste Simon Coveney has claimed.

After meeting with the EU’s Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels today, Mr Coveney said he remains hopeful the Withdrawal Agreement can be finalised this week.

Finding a workable solution to the Irish border question remains the key sticking point ahead of a UK cabinet meeting tomorrow.

UK Prime Minister Theresa May wants EU leaders to hold a special summit at the end of the month to sign-off on the pact – but they say she must first give the green light that the deal is acceptable in the UK.

Mr Coveney said: “The issues aren’t new. There is still clearly work to do but between two negotiating teams. We need to give them the time and space now to finish that job.”

Mrs May is under pressure from within her own Conservative Party and from the DUP who prop up her minority government.

The DUP has said it will vote against the ‘backstop’ currently being proposed as it would effectively create a border down the Irish Sea.

Mr Coveney said this is “a very important week for Brexit negotiations” and the sooner they conclude “the better for everybody”.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said the government would prefer if an EU summit on Brexit is held this month to provide “certainty” for the future.

However, he said failing that there’s still a European Council meeting planned for December if an agreement can’t be reached in the coming days.

EU and UK negotiators are still working to reach a deal on the fall-back plan to avoid a hard border in Ireland in the event that an overall free trade deal fails to be put in place after Brexit - the so-called backstop.

Mrs May has a crucial Cabinet meeting tomorrow which will again consider the question of the border in Ireland.

A deal on the backstop is seen as necessary this week if a special EU summit on a Brexit withdrawal agreement with the UK is to be called this month.

Mr Varadkar said he spoke to other leaders at the Armistace Day commemorations in Paris yesterday, mentioning the UK Cabinet Office minister David Lidington and European Commission President Jean Claude Juncker. 

The Taoiseach said: “ultimately what we would like to be in a position to do is to have the special EU Council meeting… before the end of the month.

“If that’s not possible we do already have one pencilled in for the 13 and 14 of December so it’s not that we absolutely have to have one by the end of November.

“But I think in terms of giving everyone certainty about the future and what Brexit is going to look like it would be preferable.

“A lot of work is being done in Brussels at the moment in ‘The Tunnel’ to come to an agreement which Prime Minister May will be able to present to Cabinet,” he said.

‘The Tunnel’ – is the description being used for the secretive talks process taking place between  UK and EU negotiators in Brussels.

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