Coveney identifies 'two significant problems' with Johnson's proposed Brexit deal

Tanaiste Simon Coveney during the Fine Gael parliamentary meeting at the Garryvoe Hotel in Cork.

Cormac McQuinn

TÁNAISTE Simon Coveney has identified two "significant problems" with British Prime Minsiter Boris Johnson's proposals for a Brexit deal.

Mr Coveney said he believes Mr Johnson's government wants a deal but understands any scepticism about this, saying Ireland has "not been treated well" with the approach on the British side changing during the Brexit process.

He said there is a "serious proposal on the table" adding: "It won't be the basis of a final agreement ... but I hope it will be a stepping stone".

Responding to Dáil questions from Fianna Fáil deputy leader Dara Calleary, Mr Coveney said Ireland and the EU is taking Mr Johnson's proposals seriously.

But he raised concerns over customs checks and any role for the Northern Ireland Executive where one party could have a veto over whether or not to stay in the agreement in the future.

Mr Johnson's suggestion for reaching a deal while scrapping the backstop have been characterised as "two borders, for four years".

Northern Ireland would stay in alignment with the EU for regulations involving areas like agri-food.

Mr Coveney said this is a "positive" and is "consistent with the backstop" that's aimed at avoiding a hard border.

However he warned that the proposal for Northern Ireland to leave the customs union with the rest of the UK does mean customs checks will be needed - not just at premises and businesses - and this is a problem.

Mr Johnson's plan would also give Northern Ireland's politicians an opportunity to consent to membership of the all-island regulatory zone before the UK leaves the EU and every four years after that.

The Tanaiste said the Irish government could not support a proposal that would give any one party the ability to make decisions on the future of Northern Ireland's participation in an all-island system of regulatory allignment.

Mr Coveney said that if Mr Johnson's suggestions for breaking the Brexit impasse is the final proposal from the British government, there won't be a deal.

DUP leader Arlene Foster has criticised Mr Coveney's remarks claiming he is rejecting a reasonable offer and paving the way for a no-deal Brexit.

She said: "Simon Coveney’s remarks are deeply unhelpful, obstructionist and intransigent."

She accused the Irish government of a "majoritarian desire to ride roughshod over unionism" and said this is one of the reasons the Withdrawal Agreement was rejected.

Ms Foster said: "Mr Coveney’s rejection of a reasonable offer is paving the road for a no deal exit because unionism will not allow Northern Ireland to be trapped at the whim of Dublin or the EU.  We will not buy that."

She claimed: "The Irish government’s preparedness to dump the consent principle for their country’s expediency is foolish in the extreme and sends a very clear message to unionists."

Ms Foster insisted: "There will be no return to the flawed backstop.

"We will leave the EU, Customs Union and single market alongside the rest of the United Kingdom."