Europe will not ratify withdrawal agreement without backstop - Coveney

‘We have made it clear the time for debate and discussion over the backstop was during negotiations’

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney has predicted that the European Parliament will not ratify a withdrawal agreement without a backstop mechanism, despite the difficulty that it is causing for British prime minister Theresa May in Westminster.

Mr Coveney acknowledged there may be greater clarity over the next few days as to what a majority in the British Parliament could support, but he cautioned against assuming that EU generosity in terms of its response would go so far as to dropping the backstop.

"I don't believe a withdrawal agreement will be ratified in the European Parliament if there is not a backstop in it. I don't believe a withdrawal agreement will be agreed by EU Governments if there isn't a backstop in it because throughout this process, Ireland and the EU have been united on this issue."

He said the EU fully appreciated the need to protect the peace process and relationships on the island of Ireland and the role the backstop could play in managing a border between two jurisdictions when one is in the EU and the other is outside the EU, the customs union and the single market.

Mr Coveney said managing concerns about the border was very difficult to achieve if people do not continue to support the back stop, which is “a pragmatic, sensible and legally sound mechanism”, to try and avoid the return of a hard border on the island of Ireland.

“That’s why the negotiation took so long so those who are advocating change to, or removal of, the backstop don’t have any credible answers that I’ve heard in terms of how you solve that border problem, unless you change red lines around the future relationship between the UK and Ireland.”

Mr Coveney said that while the UK had set down leaving the customs union and the single market as red line issues, if there was to be a change to that approach, to both the customs union and the single market, then the EU would also change its approach to try and facilitate agreement.

“Of course if the UK’s approach towards the customs union and single market were to change, then likelihood of the backstop ever being used would be much less likely and the issue of the backstop would become less of a problem for many people in Westminster,” he said.

Asked about a proposal from influential Tory backbencher, 1922 Committee chairman Graham Brady, seeking to water down the backstop aimed at giving Ms May "enormous firepower" to renegotiate her Brexit deal with Brussels, Mr Coveney played down its chance of leading to any resolution.

“This is nothing new - there are plenty of voices in Westminster who want to change the backstop. We have made it very clear that the time for debate and discussion over the backstop was when it was being negotiated,” said Mr Coveney.

"People refer to it as the Irish backstop - the backstop was a series of compromises agreed with the British Government, with the EU negotiating teams and signed off by all 28 Governments, including the British Government at the end of two years of negotiation.

“And I would remind people that the backstop element of the Withdrawal Agreement was designed and then re-designed around British ‘red lines’, that have now resulted in a series of compromises that some people in Westminster now seem to want to change again.”

He was speaking in Cork on Monday.