Brexit: Coveney meets Raab but stark differences remain on backstop

Boris Johnson’s government has put forward nothing credible, says Tánaiste

Speaking at a meeting of EU foreign affairs ministers in Helsinki, Tánaiste Simon Coveney has said that the UK government is yet to provide a credible alternative to the backstop. Video: EU Commission

 

Boris Johnson’s Conservative government has put forward “nothing credible” as an alternative to the Brexit backstop, the Tánaiste Simon Coveney has said.

Responding to a suggestion from Mr Johnson that the EU and the UK intensify negotiations in the run up to the October 31st deadline, Mr Coveney said the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, is ready to negotiate five days a week if necessary.

Mr Johnson has suggested negotiators should step up the tempo by meeting two days a week.

Mr Coveney and the British foreign secretary Dominic Raab met for 45 minutes this morning for discussions about Brexit. The meeting was held on the fringes of the EU foreign ministers meeting in Helsinki. Finland currently holds the EU presidency.

According to a statement issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs, the two men “talked about the enduring friendship between Ireland and Britain and the shared desire to see an orderly Brexit and to move beyond Brexit.”

However, the stark differences between the two governments on the issue of the backstop remain evident.

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Mr Coveney “reiterated the EU and Ireland’s consistent position that the Withdrawal Agreement, drafted around UK red lines and agreed between the EU and UK, is not up for renegotiation”, aides said.

He also “urged the British government to bring any viable alternatives to the backstop” forward for discussion with the EU chief’s negotiator Michel Barnier.

However, he warned that any alternatives must achieve “the same goal of no hard border or related infrastructure or checks and protect the all island economy and Ireland’s place in the EU single market”.

Mr Coveney has repeatedly challenged the UK government to come up with technical solutions to the backstop. The backstop is an insurance policy written into the withdrawal agreement agreed between the UK and the EU guaranteeing no harder border on the island of Ireland. It would only be used as a last resort or the default option if the EU and UK could not reach an overarching free trade deal during the transition period after Brexit. (read a full explainer on the backstop here).

German chancellor Angela Merkel suggested a 30-day deadline for the UK government for credible alternatives – a challenge Mr Johnson accepted.

“There is no country that wants a deal more than Ireland. We want good relations with the UK. We want to get a deal that manages a sensible Brexit,” Mr Coveney said in Helsinki before the start of Friday’s meeting.

“It cannot simply be this notion that we must have the backstop removed and we’ll solve this problem in the future negotiations, without any credible way of doing that. That’s not going to fly.

“It has to be based on the Withdrawal Agreement and has to be consistent with it. They have to propose alteratives that will resolve that problem,” the Minister for Foreign Affairs said.

“If there are alternatives to the backstop that do the same job, let us hear them. What we will not do in Ireland – and I believe there is strong solidarity across the EU about this – we will not allow a really important element of the Withdrawal Agreement to be removed, ie the backstop, and to replace that with something that does not stand up to scrutiny and is simply a promise that we will do our best to solve the problem, but not explain how.”

Mr Coveney was also asked by reporters if he believed Mr Johnson’s controversial decision to prorogue the Westminister parliament would make it harder to reach a deal.

He responded it was not his place to comment on internal politics in the UK. “It is a matter for the [British] government and the parliament. Let’s see what happens next week.”

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