Collapse of Brexit talks between Conservative and Labour parties a 'very negative development' for Ireland, says Coveney
TANAISTE Simon Coveney admitted that the collapse of Brexit compromise talks between the Conservatives and Labour in the UK was "a very negative" development for both Ireland and the EU.
"I am not going to sugarcoat this," he said.
"This is a very negative development. It adds even more uncertainty to what is already a very difficult political challenge in Westminster as a collective.
"It is not a good development but there have been many setbacks when it comes to the approach to Brexit in Westminster. This is yet another one."
"What I will say is that we are running out of time now."
Mr Coveney warned that it was now possible British politics could find itself faced next autumn with a stark choice between a 'no deal' Brexit and no Brexit at all.
"Many of us were encouraged when the Labour Party and Conservative Party started talking to each other in a real way because it was a real discussion led by some very good people."
"I know people on both sides - Keir Starmer on the Labour side is a very good politician, very smart. David Liddington leading the Conservative negotiating team is a very reasonable politician, a very smart guy. He wants to deliver a sensible Brexit.
"It is very disappointing that, in many ways, the best of both parties have not been able to find a middle ground position.
"That they could try to bring the country together - because Britain is a terribly divided country.
"That being said, the Prime Minister (Theresa May) has said she will try to bring proposals to parliament now that can be tested in terms of finding a majority.
"There is a big obligation on her between now and the first week of June to find a way of constructing proposals that can command a majority and hopefully get a Withdrawal Agreement ratified in Westminster.
"But there is a lot of uncertainty around that and from an Irish perspective - just because there hasn't been a lot of public commentary about preparations for a 'No deal' Brexit doesn't mean they aren't happening - and they are.
"It would have been preferable from our point of view - from the outside looking in - you have the two largest parties in the UK, if they were to agree a way forward and they encourage their membership to vote that way - that was the most likely way of achieving a majority.
"To be fair to the Prime Minister, she has always said that the Conservative Party and the Labour Party might not be able to agree on a middle ground position.
"If that were to happen - and now it has - her next course of action would be to put options to parliament that could try to command a majority.
"I suspect that will now be her approach. She will put options to parliament with a view to her following that if she can get a majority for a course of action - following that quite quickly with a Withdrawal Bill which clearly she wants to try to get through before the summer recess.'
"But clearly there are leadership issues now within the Conservative Party which become part of the debate."
"They create another layer of uncertainty again because the Labour Party's position has been that they were concerned if they were to do a deal with the current Prime Minister, a potential future leadership change could then rip that deal up."
"They obviously haven't gone with that course of action."
"We are running out of time. The extension to Article 50 (from the EU) runs out at the end of October."
"If you look at the number of parliamentary weeks between now and the end of October, there is not a lot of time left."
"If you look at what happens in September, in British politics you effectively have party conference season which often involves sabre rattling rather than compromise."
"I think there is a huge political challenge to get consensus and a majority in Westminster than can avoid a 'no deal' Brexit."
"Some are now talking about the choice in the autumn being a 'no deal' Brexit and no Brexit at all through the revocation of Article 50 or an application for a further extension."
"But don't forget that by the time the end of October comes, the EU may well be a very different place politically - there will be a new Commission, a new President, a new Council, a new Parliament ."
"I suspect it may well be a more divided European Parliament. The EU collectively will be very eager to move on with core EU issues - the distraction that Brexit has been and how much political bandwidth it has taken up over the last year. It may be something that results in the EU being far less inclined to facilitate another extension of Article 50."
He admitted the Conservative leadership election was another distraction - but he warned that Ireland cannot comment on internal British politics.
"That’s a matter for the Conservative Party so I wouldn’t really comment on the leadership issue – the obstacle to Brexit is not personality based, the issues will still be the issues if Theresa May is no longer Prime Miniser and somebody else is."
"Westminister isn’t going to change either and the EU position will remain the same in terms of considering the negotiation around the withdrawal agreement closed but at the same time trying to facilitate the UK if they wants to change the level of ambition in the future arrangement declaration – all those things stay and a change of personality doesn’t really change that."
"Brexit has always been for us an evidence-based and a fact-based series of problems to resolve as opposed to a personality-based issue and so some people seem to think that if you change the British Prime Minister everything changes too and I’m sure it does actually."
"That’s why I hope the current Prime mInister is successful in trying to find a majority in Westminster that can allow a withdrawal agreement to be ratified that gives us all a bit of certainty around managing the Brexit process in a way that limits damage because dealing with the consequences of a 'no deal' Brexit while we will be ready when it happens, as ready as we can be, certainly puts the Irish economy under a lot of strain."