Hard Brexit less likely but Ireland will back Johnson if extension sought – Tánaiste

Coveney denies damage to Government relationship with DUP over Brussels deal

Tánaiste Simon Coveney  said the risk of a no-deal Brexit was, in some ways, a negotiating tactic. File photograph: Henry Nicholls/Reuters

Tánaiste Simon Coveney said the risk of a no-deal Brexit was, in some ways, a negotiating tactic. File photograph: Henry Nicholls/Reuters


Tánaiste Simon Coveney said he believes a no-deal Brexit is now less likely, but that Ireland would back an extension request from Boris Johnson in the event of the UK government failing to accept the deal now agreed with the EU.

Mr Coveney said the vote on the deal agreed yesterday between the EU and UK was now a matter for the British parliament. and while he did not want to predict the outcome, he believed the result would be close.

“I think a no-deal is now less likely. We have a British prime minister who, only a couple of weeks ago, was saying he was going to leave the EU, deal or no deal – he was basically saying that a no-deal was not so bad.

“I think in some ways that was a negotiating tactic, which is fair enough, but we now have a deal, and we have a British prime minister who is taking ownership of that deal, and wants to sell it, and is advocating for a deal.

“We also have a parliament that has shown a strong majority against a no- deal and we have British law saying that the prime minister has to apply an extension as opposed to facilitating a no deal.

“There is good reason to say a no-deal is far less likely than it was yesterday or a week ago. Everything isn’t done yet but it [the agreement reached in Brussels] was certainly a very big step forward,” he said.

Mr Coveney said it was now up to Mr Johnson to build support for the deal and it remains to be seen what happens in the House of Commons vote but the Irish Government would remain vigilant, as would the EU.

“We will follow it closely and if there is more uncertainty after tomorrow that we have to deal with, we’ll get through that too because of the extraordinary solidarity that we have managed to build across the European Union.

“We have been able to sustain that solidarity, in particular due to Michel Barnier and his team but also president Juncker and president Tusk, who have shown Ireland a level of support that many people didn’t think was possible.”

Speaking in Blackpool in Cork city, where he opened the new constituency office of Fine Gael Cork North Central by-election candidate, Senator Colm Burke, Mr Coveney was slow to try and predict Saturday’s vote in London.

“If ratification doesn’t happen tomorrow, then it is really a matter for the British parliament as to what happens then – the prime minister will be obliged by British law to apply in writing for an extension until the end of January.”

He said he believed if there was an extension request from the UK, together with a plan to facilitate a general election or a referendum or some other proposal to secure a deal, the EU would give it serious consideration.

“If this deal doesn’t pass, well then, there is certainly an obligation on the parliament to try to indicate how a deal can be done if the EU is going to be persuaded to grant a further extension.

“And I think that is likely to mean an election, a referendum, or some other fundamental change as opposed to just more of the same in terms of what we seen over the last six months.”

Parliamentary vote

Mr Coveney played down suggestions the Government’s relationship with the DUP had been damaged by its insistence on the backstop to the point the UK had agreed a deal where the North will continue to apply EU regulations on goods.

He said that the Government has worked, and continues to work with all parties in Northern Ireland with a view to getting the Stormont Assembly back running and it has a duty to talk to all parties there, not just the DUP.

“There has been a huge emphasis on one political party in Northern Ireland because they have ten votes in Westminster but all of the people in Northern Ireland and their political representatives need to be part of this discussion.

“This isn’t about one party in Northern Ireland – obviously the ratification is impacted in Westminster by [the] DUP, but our job is to try and get an agreement that everybody in Ireland can live with and be the basis of good relationships.”

Mr Coveney ruled out making any appeal to Labour MPs who have been friends to Ireland over the years, seeking to persuade them to vote for the deal contrary to what Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has urged.

“I wouldn’t give directions to any parliamentarians in the UK – Labour has been advocating for a much softer Brexit than what has been proposed by Boris Johnson and they don’t believe this deal delivers the kind of Brexit they want.

“The British parliament needs to make its own decision and it would be very dangerous territory to be leaning on anybody or suggesting how people should vote in someone else’s parliament,” he said.