Thursday 19 September 2019

Tánaiste: Mrs May will now need to be 'tough' if Brexit deal is to survive

  • Leo Varadkar offered embattled Theresa May his 'support' in phonecall this morning
  • 'There are challenges to selling any package in United Kingdom' - Coveney
  • FF accuses Irish Government of "patting themselves on the back"
'British Prime Minister has followed through on her commitments to Ireland' – Tánaiste Simon Coveney. Photo: Johnny Brew/Independent.ie
'British Prime Minister has followed through on her commitments to Ireland' – Tánaiste Simon Coveney. Photo: Johnny Brew/Independent.ie

Kevin Doyle and Laura Larkin

TÁNAISTE Simon Coveney has said the British Prime Minister Theresa May will need to be “tough, resilient and persuasive” in the days ahead if the Brexit deal is to survive.

Amid a string of ministerial resignations in the UK today including that of Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, Mr Coveney described the situation in Westminster as “very divisive and somewhat chaotic”.

In an exclusive video interview for Independent.ie, the Tánaiste says:

*From an Irish perspective the negotiations have been a success

He left Dominic Raab in no doubt that Ireland could not give in to his demands around a time limit for the ‘backstop’ during a private meeting.

*And despite the progress, planning for a ‘no deal’ scenario continues unabated.

Mr Coveney said the Government must carry-on setting money aside for a disorderly Brexit.

“All of that works continues because we can’t take anything for granted, that’s for sure,” he said.

Asked about Mr Raab’s resignation, the Tánaiste said he doesn’t understand how he can claim the integrity of the United Kingdom is under threat.

“What we have done is change the backstop essentially to try and accommodation British concerns to ensure there would be no customs checks between Britain and Ireland. To address a concern both he and the Prime Minster has outlined,” he said.

But Mr Coveney said he was “very upfront” with the Brexit Secretary that under no circumstances could the Irish backstop be time limited.

“If we didn’t have a backstop that was robust, it wouldn’t be a backstop at all.

“It is only an insurance mechanism. It’s a last resort. There are many other ways which we can resolve the border issue,” the Tánaiste said.

Independent.ie has learned that Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Mrs May spoke by phone this morning.

It is understood Mr Varadkar offered the embattled PM his “support” amid a string of ministerial resignations in Westminster.

They pledged to “work together” on the future relationship between the UK and EU so that the Irish backstop “never needs to be invoked”.

'There are challenges to selling any package in United Kingdom'

Mr Coveney later said there may not be “a majority for any way forward in Westminster” as UK ministers resign over the Brexit deal.

Taking questions on the draft deal in the Dáil, he said it would “protect Ireland’s core interests now and into the future”.

He praised the work of Irish diplomats involved in the negotiations over the past two years, saying they did an “extraordinary job to build and maintain EU unity around many off the Irish vulnerabilities”.

And he said the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier had shown “extraordinary capacity to understand the detail” of the Irish concerns.

Asked by Fianna Fáil’s Darragh O’Brien about the instability in the UK government, Mr Coveney replied: “Of course there are challenges to selling any package in United Kingdom.

“Many people would say there isn’t a majority for any way forward in Westminister.”

But he added that British Prime Minister Theresa May has “shown a capacity to get things done in very difficult circumstances”.

Mr O’Brien questioned whether the Government had been too triumphalist in their public statements since the deal was published.

“The time for victory and celebration is when this draft agreement is ratified and satisfied by all,” he said, adding that “every statement being made in Ireland is being scrutinised”.

However, Mr Coveney rejected this claim. He argued that the Government had a duty to explain what was in the deal to the Irish people. 

The Minister said he was giving “reassurance” to people who were “very sceptical that a deal could be done” to maintain open trade on this island.

FF accuses Irish Government of “patting themselves on the back”

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil has accused the Irish Government of risking the chances of the Brexit deal getting through the UK parliament by “patting themselves on the back”.

Lisa Chambers, the party’s spokesperson on Brexit, said the Government needs to “calm down” and take heed that London is watching what is said here and said it feeds into what is unfolding in the UK.

They need to be “far more aware that their actions, their self congratulating, their patting themselves on the back here in Dublin absolutely negatively feeds into what happens in the Commons today”, she said.  

Ms Chambers conceded it would be a stretch to say that the Taoiseach’s comments lead to resignations of ministers in the UK such as Dominic Raab but she said the tense state of play at the moment means that the Irish government needs to give Theresa May the space to try to sell the deal in London.

“We need to calm down and our gov needs to calm down. If we have learned anything from last Dec when FG and our gov trumpeted their own personal success in achieving what they deemed to be a rock solid, cast iron and bullet proof backstop which really undermined and made it very difficult in the UK parliament to deal with that particular issue.

“The Taoiseach’s comments that what we have achieved last night is “even stronger” it’s extremely unhelpful because right now Theresa May and her cabinet are dealing with a really challenging situation,” she said.

UK ministers resign in protest

Two Leave-backing ministers including the man in charge of the UK's withdrawal negotiations have sensationally quit the UK Cabinet on Thursday in a massive blow to Mrs May's Brexit plans.

Mr Raab - who only took over in the summer after David Davis resigned in protest over the Prime Minister's withdrawal strategy - said he "cannot in good conscience support the terms proposed for our deal with the EU".

Esther McVey announced she was resigning as Work and Pensions Secretary as she could not defend a deal which meant the UK "handing over control to the EU".

The pair's shock departures within little more than an hour of one another on Thursday came amid a furious backlash from Brexit-backing Conservatives to the deal given the collective approval of Mrs May's Cabinet in a stormy five-hour meeting at 10 Downing Street on Wednesday.

Their resignations were followed by a second Brexit minister, Suella Braverman, while Anne-Marie Trevelyan announced she was quitting as an unpaid parliamentary aide in the Department for Education.

The developments threaten to derail the Prime Minister's Brexit strategy ahead of a crucial EU summit on November 25, with just over four months to go until the UK is due to leave on March 29.

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