Coveney warns against Brexit ‘game of chicken’ talk

Tánaiste tells Oireachtas it is ‘incredible’ the UK parliament has allowed it come to this

Tánaiste Simon Coveney said that, ‘deal or no deal’, the UK government had made a commitment and there was an obligation on the EU to ‘find a way of avoiding physical infrastructure on this island’. File photograph: Collins

Tánaiste Simon Coveney said that, ‘deal or no deal’, the UK government had made a commitment and there was an obligation on the EU to ‘find a way of avoiding physical infrastructure on this island’. File photograph: Collins

 

Tánaiste Simon Coveney said that it was “incredible” that the UK parliament had allowed Brexit to “come to this” and warned against talk of “a game of chicken” with the EU.

During an appearance at the Oireachtas foreign affairs committee Mr Coveney expressed frustration at the absence of “a proper formal dialogue” between the two main UK parties at Westminster on agreeing a Brexit deal with just 43 days until the UK is due to quit the EU.

“It is incredible, in my view, that the British parliament has allowed it come to this,” he said. He said he still believed there was “a way to get through” the deadlock and have “a managed, controlled and predictable Brexit”.

“We have the basis for a deal. It’s there if people would just take it rather than just look for more all the time and if people instead of trying to compromise with hardliners on both sides – if middle-ground sensible thinking took control of this process – we would find a solution a lot quicker.”

The risk of the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal on March 29th has increased after the UK parliament last month rejected a proposed divorce deal and has found no alternative solution to an agreement.

The EU has consistently refused to open up the withdrawal agreement or to drop the contentious backstop that would avoid a hard Irish border if there was no better option is found in a future trade deal. The UK parliament rejected the divorce deal fearing the backstop would keep the UK tied to the EU.

Mr Coveney told the committee that he was “not comfortable” with the language of “a game of chicken or who will blink first” in the standoff between the EU and the UK.

One thing that made Brexit negotiations “so uncomfortable” was the pressures on the UK parliament and on the Irish Government and Dáil, he said.

‘Complicated history’

In light of a “very complicated and tragic history”, all sides have “to find a way through this” that “doesn’t damage this relationship and provoke tension that many people thought we had left behind”, said Mr Coveney.

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“I would ask people to think about that when they start talking about playing games of chicken – on both sides,” he said.

The Tánaiste dismissed a Reuters report out of Brussels, quoting an unnamed “senior EU diplomat” saying that the EU would give Dublin some leeway to establish new border arrangements with Northern Ireland in a no-deal Brexit but that it would have to set up a border or face a border with the rest of the EU.

“I would be wary of Brussels sources quite frankly. I hear rumours coming out of Brussels, just like I hear rumours coming out of London every day on Brexit,” he said.

“Unless there is a name behind a source and a quote, then I am pretty suspicious of it because there is a lot of spin, a lot of manoeuvring and lot of politics around this issue.”

Mr Coveney said that, “deal or no deal,”the UK government had made a commitment and there was an obligation on the EU to “find a way of avoiding physical infrastructure on this island.”

Fianna Fail TD Niall Collins asked Mr Coveney whether the Government was “coming under any pressure from anywhere within the EU to find an alternative to the backstop”.

“No, I don’t think so,” he replied. “The pressure isn’t on Ireland. I think the pressure is on London.”

Mr Coveney’s spokesman, in response to the Reuters report, said European Council president Donald Tusk and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker have “repeatedly said the EU is determined to do all it can, deal or no deal, to avoid the need for a border and to protect peace in Northern Ireland”.

‘Big mistakes’

Mr Coveney said that “one of the big mistakes in London” was the perspective that the EU needs a deal as much as the UK needs a deal.

“That’s factually just not true,” he said.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs told Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane that if there was no deal and the UK crashes out of the EU, then Ireland, the UK and the EU would have “a very difficult job” to manage the consequences of that when it comes to relations between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

“If there are no agreed solutions here, well then the default position is regulatory alignment between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in the areas necessary to prevent physical border infrastructure,” he said.

He criticised the view of some Brexiteers that the UK can walk away from commitments already made.

“We can’t just wipe the slate clean and have people make farcical arguments like ‘well you don’t want a border, we don’t want a border, the EU doesn’t want a border’, so let’s just pretend it’s not a problem. That’s kindergarten stuff,” he said.

The Tánaiste said he hoped the UK government will find a way to support the proposed withdrawal agreement.

“There is a strong majority in Westminster that don’t want a no-deal Brexit and want to avoid it but I can’t say that for sure,” he said.

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