Thursday 25 April 2019

'They're having a very corrosive impact on the debate' - Coveney hits out at hardline Brexiteers

Tanaiste Simon Coveney (Brian Lawless/PA)
Tanaiste Simon Coveney (Brian Lawless/PA)

Ralph Riegel

TANAISTE Simon Coveney hit out at hardline Brexiteers and warned they were having "a corrosive impact" on desperate efforts to avoid the UK crashing out of the EU without a withdrawal agreement.

Mr Coveney said that while Ireland, the British Government and the EU all want an agreed withdrawal of the UK, hardline Brexiteers want a no-deal scenario and for the UK to crash out of the EU irrespective of the economic consequences.

"There is a small number of politicians in Westminster who want to see a no-deal Brexit. They are having a very corrosive impact on the debate because what they want to trigger is the inability for the British Parliament to be able to settle on a way forward," Mr Coveney said.

"Therefore, (it would) see a no-deal Brexit happen by accident, by default. I hope the British Parliament will not allow that to happen."

"I think there is a strong majority in Westminster that want to prevent a no-deal including the Prime Minister."

"As someone who has been very close to these negotiations for many, many months now, no-one wants a no-deal. It is a lose for everybody."

"I think the European Council, the British Government, the Irish Government and everybody else involved in this process will be working to avoid a no-deal Brexit."

The Cork TD stressed that the Withdrawal Agreement hammered out with British Prime Minister Theresa May is the only option before London, Brussels and Dublin.

"She is the only person with a coherent plan on the table."

"That is why that plan which has been agreed with the EU will be put to a vote again next week in the British Parliament. I hope it can get through."

"If it doesn't, then of course the British Parliament is faced with coming up with an alternative quickly because we really are running out of time."

"I think the European Council will consider their approach again next week when they have more clarity from Westminster."

But Mr Coveney warned it is impossible to predict what will happen given the deep divisions within the UK and growing frustrations over Brexit in EU capitals.

"I think we will have to wait and see how the (European) Council develops but I would be very surprised if the approach that President Donald Tusk outlined yesterday evening is not the line that is agreed and taken."

"I think certainly the indications that some countries have gotten frustrated with the process is indicative of the fact that the negotiations on Brexit have been going on for a long time now."

"With a week to go there is still an enormous amount of uncertainty coming from Westminster and that has created concern and frustration in many countries who are trying to prepare for Brexit and the changes that will be linked to that."

"I would be hopeful that at the end of quite a long discussion in the Eurpopean Council there will be agreement in principle that if the parliament in Westminster ratifies the Withdrawal Agreement there will be a short extension to facilitate the legislation that will be necessary to be passed before they leave in a way that is controlled and predictable."

The Tanaiste said it was impossible to predict what will happen in Westminster over Prime Minister May's deal.

"We just don't know - that is the honest answer. There are conflicting messages emerging - it is very difficult for her, there is no question about that."

"There is a lot of division still within the British political system both within the political parties and across political parties. I think we need to give the Prime Minister the time and space to manage the approach next week in trying to get a deal ratified."

"That is essentially what she wants to do - I hope she can do it."

"That is what I think provides the most certainty from an Irish perspective in terms of what the future holds linked to the unfolding and developing Brexit negotiations."

"Certainly from our perspective, we would like to get a Withdrawal Agreement ratified so that we can at least then move on to the next phase of Brexit negotiations which will last somewhere between two and four years, to put in place the closest possible relationship that can be negotiated between the EU and UK."

"Certainly, that is Ireland's perspective and it always has been."

He warned that the divisions were even apparent within the European Research Group (ERG), the support group for Brexit supporting MPs.

"The ERG does not have one clear position. There are different elements within the ERG - some are complete hardliners that want to see a no-deal Brexit. Others are more pragmatic but they have issues that they need assurance and clarification on," Mr Coveney said.

"Of course, there is the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) who are not in the ERG but who do work with different ERG members at different times. They have concerns that we all know and understand. That is why we have worked with our EU partners through the Barnier task force to provide the reassurance and clarification I hope is necessary to allow the DUP to support the overall package."

"That is what the agreement in Salzburg a couple of weeks ago was all about."

"There are different voting blocks within Westminster - some of them in Government, some of them in Opposition who want different things. That is why, so far, the British Parliament has been able to find a majority for what they don't want - but they have not been able to put a majority together for what they do want."

"That has caused a huge amount of frustration in other EU countries which are trying to adapt and predict what is likely to happen in the context of Brexit because it impacts on them too."

"That is why I think the Council will listen very carefully to what the British Prime Minister has to say and then they will have a debate themselves on a way forward. But I would not like to predict what that will be until we hear later."

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