Brexit must not damage the interests of people in Ireland, diplomat says

David Cooney says Theresa May is ‘trying to hold everybody’s feet to the fire’ to pass deal

David Cooney was born and raised in London to Irish parents.

David Cooney was born and raised in London to Irish parents.

 

The Government’s first obligation is to ensure Brexit does not damage the interests of people in Ireland, a senior diplomat has said.

David Cooney, former general secretary at the Department of Foreign Affairs and former Irish Ambassador to London, said Brexit was causing frustration on both sides of the Irish Sea.

“There is no question the Government has tried to work, wants to work with Britain and Northern Ireland, but we do have to ensure that Brexit does not damage the interests of the people of this island north and south and I think that is the first obligation of the Irish government,” he said.

“I think we are frankly too locked together to cause any real separation, this is a matter of national interest both for the UK and Ireland and there’s obviously going to be tension.

“Ireland has every right after its long and troubled history, the situation we’ve enjoyed over the last 20 years of reconciliation and coming together, is an environment that we’ve all enjoyed. It’s been done in partnership.”

Mr Cooney, who was born and raised in London to Irish parents, told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland that this is a “particularly traumatic” time for people in the Irish community in Britain, as it is for many people here who have friends and relatives in Britain.

He said British prime minister Theresa May was trying to put pressure on those within her Conservative Party who were refusing or reluctant to back her deal.

“The situation that we find ourselves in now with the prime minister’s latest statement, clearly she is determined to push on with her plan, she is to some extent trying to hold everybody’s feet to the fire, particularly those in her own party who are opposed to her deal.

“Because with the increasing involvement of parliament in the discussions, what it does is it opens up the possibility of a softer Brexit, even no Brexit - God forbid, in the eyes of Brexiteers - so I think she is, at this particular juncture trying to put pressure on those in her party who are reluctant to come with her.

“Clearly she hasn’t actually opened up to any possible change of direction, but parliament now has the opportunity to have its say with the possibility of pulling down amendments to her own rather bland proposal, which obviously will concern those in her own party who want Brexit at all costs.”

He said the problem from the Irish point of view was that there is an increasing emphasis on the backstop, and some ideas that have floated around about limiting the time of application of the backstop “quite frankly just fail to understand what the backstop is all about”.

He said if a situation existed where after the transition period there was no comprehensive agreement that would deal with the situation in Northern Ireland, “the longer that situation prevails the more important it is to have a backstop because of the possibility of divergence”.

Referring to the Polish foreign minister Jacek Czaputowicz’s proposal that the Brexit deadlock be broken with a five-year limit on the backstop, he said the longer a situation continued where there is no comprehensive agreement, the more important the backstop would become.

“So it goes totally contrary to the purpose of the backstop to talk about putting a time limit on it.”