Brexit: Conservative in-fighting ‘unhelpful,’ says Coveney

Cabinet to be briefed on Brexit preparations; Minister says ‘legislation can be changed’

Tánaiste Simon Coveney: ‘Brexit is not going to be resolved in London’. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

Tánaiste Simon Coveney: ‘Brexit is not going to be resolved in London’. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/The Irish Times

 

The Cabinet will discuss preparations for Brexit at its meeting in Derrynane, Co Kerry this morning.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney will provide an update on a range of measures including the recruitment of hundreds of customs officers and other plans at ports and airports.

Speaking prior to the meeting, Mr Coveney said the amendment vote in the British parliament this week over the Brexit White Paper was “unhelpful”.

“People are trying to tie the government’s hands, but amendments and legislation can be changed,” he said.

MPs approved a number of amendments to a customs Bill which Conservative Remainers tabled in protest against British prime minister Theresa May’s Chequers proposal for a soft Brexit.

The British government accepted the amendments rather than risk a rebellion by the Brexiteers, who regard the Chequers plan as a betrayal of the 2016 referendum.

One of the amendments makes it unlawful for Northern Ireland to form a separate customs territory to the rest of the UK.

The EU’s backstop proposal would treat Northern Ireland as part of the EU customs union, but Britain has proposed that any backstop should apply to the UK as a whole.

The EU’s position remains that, without an agreement on the backstop, there will be no withdrawal agreement and no transition period after Brexit.

Unpredictable

Mr Coveney said he did not accept that the amendment made the backstop illegal.

Mr Coveney told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that the vote in Westminster earlier this week confirmed how unpredictable it was in terms of how the House of Commons would vote on any final agreements that were negotiated.

“Brexit is not going to be resolved in London. The real negotiations have to take place with the EU, they will only start in proper this week.”

He also said it was not looking more likely that the UK would leave the EU with no deal. “It’s very clear that there is not a majority in Westminster in favour of a no deal Brexit.

“We should be talking less about the political opposition in Westminster and more about the negotiations that need to happen in Brussels. Everybody is being sidetracked by Westminster, but the British government is still saying that the White Paper is the basis of the negotiations.”

Mr Coveney said that the Irish Government is preparing for all scenarios. “We are preparing for the most likely outcome. We are ensuring that plans are in place for all eventualities, that is the prudent and sensible thing to do. We will focus on the best possible outcome,” he said.

There is growing alarm in Dublin and Brussels that the British government is stepping back from, or will be unable to carry out soft Brexit positions in its White Paper, raising the prospect of a disorderly exit from the EU next year.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said on Tuesday that because of “political instability in London” and “turmoil in Westminster”, the Government here would step up plans for a “no-deal scenario”.

“It’s not evident or not obvious that the government in Britain has a majority for any form of Brexit, quite frankly,” Mr Varadkar said.