Saturday 19 October 2019

Three-point plan to help May step back from a cliff-edge Brexit

UK Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: REUTERS
UK Prime Minister Theresa May. Photo: REUTERS
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

A three-point plan is being hatched in Brussels with the aim of helping UK Prime Minister Theresa May pull back from a cliff-edge Brexit.

While negotiations between the UK and EU remain "difficult", a 'package' of measures is being put together in a bid to assure British politicians they won't be trapped in the backstop indefinitely.

The Irish Independent understands it includes:

  • A commitment from both sides on a timeline for exploring alternative arrangements;
  • Scope for changes to the political declaration if the UK wishes;
  • A 'letter of comfort' which reaffirms that the intention of the backstop is to be temporary.

The EU's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, yesterday told commissioners that no solution to the impasse has been identified "at this point".

Tánaiste Simon Coveney said the "most sensitive and most difficult" element of the talks will be trying to facilitate the UK's attorney general Geoffrey Cox so that he can offer fresh legal advice to the House of Commons.

Mr Cox previously warned the UK could be 'trapped' in the backstop which ties the country to EU customs regulations in order to avoid a hard Border on the island of Ireland.

Revelations: Tánaiste Simon Coveney on a visit to INM’s offices in Dublin yesterday. Photo: David Conachy
Revelations: Tánaiste Simon Coveney on a visit to INM’s offices in Dublin yesterday. Photo: David Conachy

"I think some people are overly optimistic at this stage about those negotiations and their outcome," Mr Coveney said.

Speaking exclusively on Independent.ie's 'Floating Voter' podcast, the Tánaiste said the backstop will not be changed ahead of the key House of Commons vote on Tuesday, but "there will be an effort to try to introduce some form of declaration that creates a persuasive legal argument that reassures people that the backstop would be temporary".

Mr Coveney also revealed more details about the Irish Government's strategy in the event that a no-deal Brexit becomes inevitable in the coming days.

"If it all fails politically, collapses and Britain crashes out in 23 days' time then I think there is a recognition that the British and Irish governments and EU Commission will have to work together to try to put some complex arrangement in place to prevent physical barriers on the Border," he said.

In comments that are likely to raise eyebrows among observers in the DUP, the Tánaiste said that even in a no-deal scenario there will still need to be "something very similar to the backstop" in order to prevent a Border.

"That's the truth of it," he said.

Asked why the PSNI has been more forthright in outlining its resources for dealing with a disorderly Brexit than An Garda Síochána, Mr Coveney replied: "The truth is that if there is going to be unrest it's more likely to happen in Northern Ireland than in the Republic of Ireland, that's the truth of it."

Meanwhile, the DUP's Sammy Wilson has accused Northern Ireland's top civil servant of having a political motive for warning against a no-deal Brexit.

David Sterling has warned of the grave, profound and long-lasting consequences of a disorderly Brexit.

"I have no doubt this was written for a political motive," Mr Wilson said.

He described suggestions businesses could struggle or relocate from Northern Ireland to the Republic as "scare tactic".

"I don't care if he's head of civil service or Santa Claus, it really doesn't matter, the fact of the matter is he's got it wrong," Mr Wilson told MPs.

Irish Independent

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