Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney said it was too early to say whether British prime minister, Theresa May will succeed in getting sufficient support in the House of Commons to back the Brexit deal agreed with other European Union leaders in Brussels on Sunday.
“I think it is too early to say that [Mrs May won’t succeed in getting the numbers]. If there was a vote today, clearly the numbers wouldn’t be there but the vote is nearly three weeks away . . . I think this deal can be sold persuasively over the next two and a half weeks,” said Mr Coveney.
Speaking in Cork where he joined with the British Ambassador Robin Burnett to officially launch a joint survey on business links between the South West of Ireland and the UK, Mr Coveney said it was a matter for the British parliament to decide whether or not to back Mrs May and the deal she had agreed.
But he cautioned that it is the only deal available and if the British parliament opts not to support the deal, then Britain faces a no-deal Brexit which would be disastrous not just for Britain, he believed, but also for everyone on the island of Ireland.
“If people are going to try and pull that deal down, they need to think very carefully about the consequences of that because there is no alternative deal on the table . . . It has taken two years to put together, so any alternative to it, I think, will be very difficult to put in place in a short period of time.”
Mr Coveney said the entire negotiation process over the past two years or so has been “incredibly complicated and fractious” at times but the past two weeks had seen progress to the point that the legal text of the withdrawal agreement had been signed off by all parties.
The Irish Government didn't want the UK to leave the European Union but people in the UK had made that decision and the Irish Government would respect that and it wasn't the Irish Government's business to interfere in British politics, he said.
“But we do have a role in reassuring people on this island that whether you’re a nationalist or you are a unionist, this deal is about protecting relationships on the island as a whole,” said Mr Coveney adding the Irish Government had never linked the Brexit talks to constitutional arrangements on the island.
“This is a deal that is complex, that involves compromise on all sides and in my view should be supported in the interests of certainty around a very complicated challenge which is to facilitate Britain leaving the EU without undermining core relationships,” he said.
“This is about trying to put practical arrangements in place that recognise the economic and trading challenges we face in the context of Brexit, while being determined to ensure that [there is] no physical border infrastructure which would require security infrastructure around it on this island.”
Meanwhile the British ambassador to Ireland Robin Barnett admitted it was hugely frustrating that a Northern Ireland Executive is not in place to work with the British and Irish Governments over critical Brexit planning.
“It is frustrating – that is why the prime minister, the Taoiseach and both Governments are working incredibly hard to restore devolution to Northern Ireland. There is no doubt whatsoever that that would be absolutely in the interests of everybody in Northern Ireland.”
Mr Barnett also echoed the view of Mrs May that the Brexit withdrawal agreement was the only deal on the table for the UK. “One thing we are very clear about is that this is the right deal for the whole of the UK including for Northern Ireland.”
Meanwhile, the joint survey prepared by Cork Chamber and the British embassy found that International Financial Services and Information Communications Technology are two areas of economic activity where Cork can forge closer links with the UK in the years ahead,
Mr Coveney said the joint report, Joining the Dots - Promoting Economic Opportunity between the UK and South West Ireland was significant as it found 93 per cent of the respondents envisaged potential for expanded collaboration between the UK and Ireland.
“The importance of the trading relationship between Ireland and the UK cannot be understated. Raising awareness about market opportunities within the regions of our closest neighbour continues to be important to create additional jobs growth and prosperity in both south west Ireland and the UK,” he said.
Some 87 people responded to the survey, 65 per cent of whom were from Ireland and 35 per cent of whom were from the UK. Cork Chamber also carried out indepth interviews with 37 key organisations split 50/50 between Ireland and the UK.