Wednesday 21 August 2019

'UK needs to give clarity on Border,' says Coveney

Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Simon Coveney. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Simon Coveney. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Colm Kelpie

Foreign Minister Simon Coveney has strongly signalled that Brexit negotiations could be blocked from moving on to trade talks unless Britain gives more clarity on the Border.

The minister said customs checks would be unavoidable if the UK and EU are not in the same customs union. He also said the UK had so far not provided a "credible roadmap" to avoiding a hard Border.

"We have made good progress on the common travel area and we are working through in immense detail in terms of the Good Friday Agreement, but on the Border issue, I'm sorry, but we need more clarity than we have right now," Mr Coveney said.

"We cannot move ahead to phase two [of the Brexit talks] on the back of a promise that we don't see any delivery mechanism to make a reality. We don't need to have all of the answers, but we certainly need to have more assurance than we do today."

Last week, EU leaders said at a summit they would begin preparations to move into "phase two" of the Brexit negotiations in December, a step forward that would allow London to discuss its future trade relationship with the bloc.

But Mr Coveney told a Brexit event organised by AIB that for that to happen, there needed to be "progress and reality" around a number of issues.

He welcomed the fact Britain remains committed to avoiding a hard Border. But he added: "I don't see a credible roadmap to get us there. I just can't see it right now. I don't see how you avoid customs checks if you are not in the same customs union as the rest of the European Union, I just don't see how that's possible."

He also accused the UK government of promising things that it cannot deliver.

"Leaving the European Union cannot result in holding on to all of the trade bits of membership, while at the same time promising your people that you can negotiate all of these other goodies that can create competitive advantage as well as holding on to the benefits of EU membership," the minister said.

"It can't be done. It won't be done and it cannot be negotiated."

Also at the event was ex-World Trade Organisation chief Pascal Lamy, who said it was impossible to have a 'no Border' solution. He said some sort of special status for Northern Ireland should be looked at, including designating the North an autonomous customs territory that would allow it to essentially maintain the status quo and mirror existing arrangements. However, he accepted this would entail a border down the Irish Sea, between Northern Ireland and Britain.

Irish Independent

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