Coveney and DUP hold ‘frank discussion’ on Brexit backstop
Foster hopes Government recognises ‘there is a better way’ than disputed withdrawal deal
Tánaiste Simon Coveney said he held an ‘open and frank discussion’ with a DUP delegation led by party leader Arlene Foster but failed to shift their insistence that the disputed Brexit backstop should be dropped. Photograph: PressEye/PA Wire.
Tánaiste Simon Coveney said he held an “open and frank discussion” with a DUP delegation led by party leader Arlene Foster but failed to shift their insistence that the disputed Brexit backstop should be dropped.
Mr Coveney, who was visiting Belfast, had initially indicated that the DUP had declined to meet him but Ms Foster later said she was happy to do so. The DUP attributed this to some “administrative confusion” and said it was not intended as a “snub” of the Minister for Foreign Affairs.
Mr Coveney met the DUP delegation at Stormont which also included deputy leader Nigel Dodds, East Derry MP Gregory Campbell and Assembly members William Humphrey and Christopher Stalford.
Speaking afterwards, Mr Campbell said: “If they (the Government) did not have a better idea of what our position was before, which I doubt, they certainly have no doubt now about what our position is”.
Mr Coveney has repeatedly insisted that the backstop - designed to avoid a hard border after Brexit - in no way “undermined the integrity of the United Kingdom”.
“What I am trying to do here is to explain to people that this is not a threat to anybody. The Irish Government certainly has no ulterior motives here apart from to try to protect the status quo on this island.”
The Tánaiste said his focus was to explain that the backstop was “just a fallback insurance mechanism which hopefully will never be used”.
He said that even if it were used, it would essentially be the European Union saying the North “is a special case” and an attempt to ensure that its businesses could trade into the EU “freely” and the rest of the UK “in an unfettered way”.
“Are we really suggesting that this whole deal is going to be pulled down because of something that may never be used in the first place, and even if it is will only be used on a temporary basis? Is that what people are actually advocating for?”
Ms Foster said the discussions were “useful” but the party still opposed the backstop because it was viewed as creating a border between Northern Ireland and Britain.
“The withdrawal agreement is not a fair deal and we cannot support it. It should be no more acceptable to build a new east-west border than it is to build a new north-south border,” she said.
“The backstop is not needed. No one is going to build a hard border...Exiting the European Union without a deal is not our favoured outcome. To reach a better deal will require a change of heart in Dublin and Brussels.”
The DUP leader said she hoped the Government would “reflect on our principled objections” to the withdrawal agreement and “recognise that there is a better way” which can work for both the Republic and the UK.
After the meeting Mr Coveney said it was useful to have an “open and frank” discussion. “I don’t think anyone would have expected that the conversation would have resulted in agreement on the backstop between the DUP and the Irish Government,” he said.
Mr Coveney also met Sinn Féin, the SDLP and Alliance at Stormont.
Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O’Neill said the Government and leaders of the other EU states must “hold firm” and insist “there is no room for renegotiation” of the withdrawal agreement.
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood made the same point while adding: “It is humiliating that across Europe and in Westminster Northern Ireland is at the centre of debate while here we have no functioning political forum.”
Alliance leader Naomi Long said: “We need people to stop chasing after unicorns and start dealing with the reality. The reality is a stark choice - it is either bank the backstop or stop Brexit, but it’s clear that parliament has said no to no deal.”