Brian Cowen says David Davis a hardliner with no interest in Ireland

Leaving EU customs union while maintaining soft border ‘defies logic’, says former taoiseach

Former taoiseach Brian Cowen has described Britain’s Brexit secretary David Davis as a hardline right-winger who has never shown any interest in Ireland.  Photograph: Eric Luke

Former taoiseach Brian Cowen has described Britain’s Brexit secretary David Davis as a hardline right-winger who has never shown any interest in Ireland. Photograph: Eric Luke

 

Former taoiseach Brian Cowen has described Britain’s Brexit secretary David Davis as a hardline right-winger who has never shown any interest in Ireland.

In a rare interview, the ex-Fianna Fáil leader said the much-ridiculed remarks by Mr Davis last week that Sinn Féin was driving a hardened Irish Government stance on the border revealed how little the Tories understand the country.

“That’s just another indication of where the right-wing Tory party is in relation to their knowledge of how Ireland works,” Mr Cowen told RTÉ’s Today with Seán O’Rourke.

Mr Davis is “very right wing, always has been”, said Mr Cowen.

“He’s not a person who has shown much interest in Ireland in the past in my experience, and I was involved for a very long time.

“I think [the remarks were] a pretty ham-fisted effort to see if the Irish government would relent from their position. I don’t think that will carry any weight with the government.”

Speaking in London, Mr Davis said he had not anticipated Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s tough approach in the Brexit negotiations, which he suggested was swayed by “quite a strong influence from Sinn Féin”.

Challenged about the assertion, he replied: “Well you had a change of leader or a change in taoiseach. They’ve been playing a strong political role which they haven’t done historically, that I hadn’t foreseen.”

A similar claim has been made by a number of other Conservative politicians in recent months, including former Northern Ireland secretary Owen Patterson.

The charge was strongly rebuffed by the Irish Government, who said in a statement to The London Times: “[The Irish] position is unchanged since the time of the 2016 UK referendum on EU membership and is one which has cross-party support in Dáil Éireann.”

Mr Varadkar called the comments “strange” and “inaccurate”, while Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said they were “nonsense”.

Referring to Britain’s stated objective of leaving the EU customs union while maintaining a soft border, Mr Cowen said it “defies logic”.

“We will have to await the ingenuity of the Brits to see if they can come up with an answer,” he said.

Striking a sceptical note, he added: “The whole Brexit agenda is being pushed by the right wing of the Tory party for some years now and I’ve never had much faith in their genuine interest in what impacts on Ireland as far as they are concerned.”

Mr Cowen said he had remained “silent on this issue” for a long time because he wanted to hear the British position.

“Initial reactions from Europe regarding their thoughts on the issue are not very reassuring,” he said.

Mr Cowen also took issue with recent claims by former Northern Ireland First Minister and ex-Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble that Dublin’s negotiating stance could provoke loyalist paramilitaries.

“Obviously one would listen to what Mr Trimble has to say, given role in the past, but I honestly believe that can’t come into the consideration of these negotiations or how Ireland views them,” he said.

“The fact is we have national interests to protect, we are just as determined to protect them as the British are to protect theirs.”