Wednesday 22 May 2019

'Business as usual' despite Brexit Secretary's resignation - Coveney

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

Ralph Riegel

Tanaiste Simon Coveney warned that the Government will take its Brexit lead from Prime Minister Theresa May and stressed that it will be "business as usual" despite the high-profile resignation of Brexit Secretary David Davis.

Mrs May faces a potential leadership challenge within the Conservative Party as hard-line Brexiteers backed the resignation of Mr Davis and vowed to derail the Prime Minister's so-called 'soft' Brexit approach outlined last Friday.

Mr Davis has been replaced by Brexit supporter Dominic Raab and Mr Coveney said he looks forward to meeting the new Brexit Secretary at the earliest possible opportunity.

"I think she (Mrs May) showed authority on Friday, has provided a lot more certainty in respect of the British approach towards the Brexit negotiations and I expect her to see that through now," Mr Coveney said.

He said the political fall out from the resignation is something that the PM would have thought about and planned for and for him to comment on it, would not be helpful.

"I don't think it is a huge surprise that there is disagreement within the British Cabinet and there is disagreement within the Conservative Party," Mr Coveney said. "That has been a fact for decades in terms of how some people in the Conservative Party view the European Union and Britain's place with it.

"The re-positioning of the British Government over the last few days led by Theresa May has been a Prime Minister showing her authority and I think many people have been impressed by that. Now there is obviously some kick-back in relation to that."

The Tanaiste said there are lots of big personalities within the British Government and they have been quite vocal in terms of making their views known on Brexit.

"I don't think it is a surprise to me or many others who have been involved in this process that there is political management of the decision that has been taken in Chequers on Friday for the Prime Minister today and probably for the rest of the week.

"Our position is that we now have a new negotiating mandate coming from London. We will see more detail of that new approach when the White Paper is published on Thursday. The formal negotiations are due to recommence next Monday. By then, hopefully, we will have a firm, clear settled British position."

Mr Coveney said the clock was ticking with a need to agree a British withdrawal treaty from the EU by October.

"We don't have much time here," he said. "Our focus is on the policy direction - I have said repeatedly that we take our lead in terms of the British position from the Prime Minister. I think the changes in the British negotiating position on Brexit over the last few days are welcome - they are not the finished article. I have said that and so has the Taoiseach.

"But I think really it can be a basis for serious negotiation now. From our perspective we need to keep focused on how we protect Irish interests, Irish people and how we work with the British Government and the Barnier task force to find a way forward that can give certainty.

He reiterated that the internal challenges within the Conservative Party and within the Government are a matter for the Prime Minister and that goes for resignations, statements or contradictions that she has to deal with.

"It is probably not helpful for an Irish Government to comment on why people have resigned or the consequences of that. As far as I am concerned, there is a British Government position that has been confirmed by the British Prime Minister and her Cabinet in the last few days that helps to move the Brexit process forward somewhat. I think that is where our focus should be."

He acknowledged that the resignation of Mr Davis should not have come as a surprise.

"I think for some time now the British negotiation has been out of No 10 (Downing Street). The Prime Minister is the person who makes the final call in relation to Britain's position on Brexit.

"I knew David Davis reasonably well - I met him a number of times. He is somebody I regard as a very decent person. He feels now that Britain is better off with somebody else taking the lead as Minister for Brexit who has a view consistent with the Prime Minister's position. I respect that position.

He said that Ireland's focus has to be to work with the Prime Minister and, in particular, to work with the Barnier task force to seek and to get a lot more detail on the British position.

"We need to get the process into a detailed, intensified formal negotiation. For far too long we have essentially seen Britain negotiating with itself. What we need to see in Britain negotiating in an intensive way with the EU so we can start answering the questions that so many people are asking around the uncertainties of Brexit and what this will mean in the future."

The Cork TD warned Ireland and other EU member states must not be "distracted" by internal British politics.

"I think it is unhelpful for me to comment on (internal British issues). There are strong personalities - but that is a matter for those personalities and for the British Government.

"For the Irish Government to be offering commentary or anything else, quite frankly, on a difficult political day for the Prime Minister would be unhelpful to her."

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