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Wednesday 12 December 2018

Simon Coveney criticises Sinn Fein for 'sitting on their hands' over Brexit

Tanaiste Simon Coveney. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Tanaiste Simon Coveney. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Payu Tiwari

Tánaiste Simon Coveney has criticised Sinn Fein today for “sitting on their hands” as important Brexit decisions impacting Ireland are being made in the UK.

Speaking on Newstalk Breakfast, he said that Sinn Fein’s refusal to participate in these decisions have led to some votes being passed, which could have been avoided.

“We have a party in Northern Ireland and Ireland, a party that has seven MPs in the House of Commons,” he said. “And they are refusing to participate. As a result, there are votes being passed that wouldn’t have passed.”

He said that it is “extraordinary,” that when “hugely important decisions are being taken for Ireland, Sinn Fein is choosing to sit on their hands.”   

Speaking about the current turmoil in Westminster, Coveney said that said that amendment vote in the British parliament this week over the Brexit White Paper were “unhelpful,” but “people should not panic.”

On Monday night, MPs in Westminster voted in favour of a law designed to create an independent customs policy after Brexit.

MPs voted 318 to 285 in favour of the customs legislation, known as the Taxation (Cross-Border Trade) Bill, which will allow the British government to levy duties on goods after leaving the European Union.

Mr Coveney said that he did not accept that the amendment made the backstop illegal, and that people should not worry, as the “Government is committed to a backstop.”

 “The British government continually confirmed that they are committed to a backstop that deals with the Irish border question and confirmed last March and in the White Paper as much.”

“What was voted through this week in the case of a backstop was that Northern Ireland can’t be treated differently in a custom check requirement to the rest of the UK,” Mr Coveney said.

He said that “some amendments voted in were not helpful,” but they have the capacity to be changed.

The Tanaiste also stated that it is necessary to keep a distance from the issues in Westminster.

“If we worry about every setback, it’s hard for us to get the best possible outcome from an Irish perspective,” he said. “While we have divisive rows happening in Westminster, it’s important that we don’t get dragged into the Brexit argument.”

He also said that as long as Britain continues to “negotiate with itself”, the real negotiations with the EU cannot begin.

Since the Brexit referendum, all parties have urged the party to forgo its long-standing abstention policy to take its seats and vote on Brexit legislation to benefit the country. A series of key votes were held in the House of Commons on Monday, including one which put on a legal footing the UK’s position that Northern Ireland cannot have a customs arrangement separate from the rest of the UK. 

Sinn Féin Brexit spokesman David Cullinane ruled out the prospect of the party taking seats for any future vote on a final Brexit deal and said key Irish issues would be “won and lost in negotiations”. He said not all of the votes that took place on Monday could have been affected by Sinn Féin taking up its seats.

The Cabinet will meet today to discuss preparations for a no-deal Brexit in Derrynane, Co Kerry today.

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