Coveney confident EU would respond positively if UK moves approach on Brexit
‘We know they don’t want a ‘no deal’ Brexit but we don’t know what they do want’
Tánaiste Simon Coveney at official opening of the Lir National Ocean Test Facility at the UCC Environmental Research Institute Beaufort Building, Ringaskiddy, Co Cork on Friday. Photograph: Clare Keogh
Tánaiste Simon Coveney has said he is confident that if the British government was to show any movement on its approach to Brexit, then the European Union would respond in a positive and constructive way to ensure a no-deal departure could be avoided.
Mr Coveney said he was also confident the EU would remain four square behind Ireland in the need for a backstop if an exit deal cannot be negotiated.
“Our position on the back-stop remains consistent. The EU position remains in complete solidarity with Ireland and that is why you have heard Michel Barnier, Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker all saying that the Withdrawal Agreement is not up for renegotiation and that the backstop is part of that,” he said.
“Having said that, I think if it is possible to see a change in the red lines the British Government have outlined in relation to the conditions of Brexit they are seeking, then the context around the future relationship discussion and any potential use of the backstop in the future could change significantly.”
“Michel Barnier has been quite clear this week as have I and the Taoiseach - if Britain chooses to change its red lines I would like to think that the EU is ready to respond to that in a positive way and in a helpful way but that is a matter for the British parliament.”
Speaking in Ringaskiddy in Co Cork where he officially opened Lir, Ireland’s National Ocean Energy Test Facility, Mr Coveney was reluctant to comment on reports suggesting the DUP may be softening its position on the backstop to prevent the emergence of a hard border on the island of Ireland.
“I know the DUP well enough to know that if I encourage them in a direction, they may go in the other direction. I am not going to say anything about the DUP - they will make their own decisions - they are one party in Northern Ireland, the largest party,” he said.
“Obviously they have been a big part of the debate in Westminster because they have 10 seats there. I respect the DUP and recognise that they have a view. It is not a view that I share in relation to their concerns about the backstop. For me, the backstop is about a protection for everybody.”
He described the backstop as an insurance mechanism.
“To reassure people, Unionist and Nationalist, on this island and in Northern Ireland in particular that they are not going to face the impact of the consequences of border infrastructure in the future. That is all it is,” he said.
“Nobody wants to ever use it because we want a comprehensive future relationship that makes it unnecessary. Should it ever be used, the intention is only to use it on a temporary basis until something more permanent is agreed.”
He said he did not believe the Irish government should be telling any party in Westminster what to do about Brexit given it is a sovereign parliament. But he did find it extraordinary that with just over 70 days to go before the UK formally leaves the EU, it was unclear what would command majority support.
“We know that they don’t want a ‘no deal’ Brexit but we don’t know what they do want,” said Mr Coveney. He would not be drawn on whether Ms May should have reached out earlier to the other parties in Westminster to try and build a consensus on what would command majority support.
“My hope is that both large parties, in particular, will talk to each other seriously about how to move forward. Any stand-offs that may be there will end quickly because the decisions that are made in Britain impact more than on Britain and British people and they impact on us in a very major way.”
He said there are options now.
“The Prime Minister will outline how she intends to proceed in Westminster on Monday. My understanding is that she is going to table a motion that is amendable and that motion won’t be voted on until January 29th.”
“I think we will see a lot of political movement in that time in terms of the direction of travel of the British Parliament and British Government. But until we know what the British Parliament and British Government are actually asking for, it is very hard for the EU to respond generously to that.”