Tánaiste warns against ‘dumbing down’ of Border challenges to ‘tech solutions’

Coveney says some rhetoric in Tory leadership debates over no-deal Brexit ‘simply not based on reality’

Complex challenges surrounding the Irish Border in the event of a no-deal Brexit cannot be "dumbed down" to technological solutions, Tánaiste Simon Coveney has said.

Mr Coveney said he had no desire to get involved in the Conservative Party leadership contest between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, but he said he hoped the media in the United Kingdom and Ireland would closely scrutinise what are sometimes being presented as facts in the debate.

“I’m very careful not to get involved in the leadership contest in the UK – that would be wrong . . . what’s under way right now is not only a contest to become leader of the Conservative Party but also a contest for a person who is likely to be the next prime minister in the UK.

“But I think it is important that what are presented as facts in the debates we’ve heard to date are actually scrutinised and challenged, ” the Minister for Foreign Affairs said.

Mr Coveney refused to be drawn on what specific claims he was referring to, but he said: “I do think some of the rhetoric we have heard in the context of the leadership debates in the UK is simply not based on reality – I say that respectfully – these issues cannot be dumbed down into simplistic solutions such as technology will provide all the answers.

“We have to respect the British political system, but we have a responsibility to ensure that the commentary in relation to Ireland and Ireland’s position on Brexit is based on facts . . . people are entitled to their opinions, but they are not entitled to their own facts,” he said.

Mr Coveney welcomed comments by Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte earlier this week when he warned against implementing a time limit on the Border as some Tory leadership candidates had proposed, counselling strongly against such a move.

“That would mean a hard border, and that would mean an end to the Good Friday Agreement and back to the Troubles,” said Mr Rutte in an interview with the BBC in which he was skeptical about a second referendum in the United Kingdom and argued instead that a hard Brexit must be stopped now.

Mr Coveney said that Mr Rutte along with other EU leaders such as President Emannuel Macron of France and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany had a good understanding of the implications of a hard Brexit not just for the all island economy of Ireland but also for the peace process.

“Let’s not forget that the EU started off as a peace project and the EU feels an ownership and has a huge interest in maintaining and protecting the Irish peace process,” he said.

"The EU wants to maintain the normality of relations on the island of Ireland and in many ways, that normality is reinforced by an all Ireland economy that has functioned really well, that has created effectively an invisible border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

“That is what we are trying to protect and that is what the backstop and the withdrawal agreement guarantees in the future and so what Mark Rutte is making clear is that the EU understands this issue and is happy that we have negotiated in a way that’s fair for the UK and Ireland and the EU.”

Mr Coveney said the EU was clear in terms of what was on offer around the withdrawal agreement and that was not going to change despite what various individuals in the UK might say.

“What we have is a fair and balanced deal. That deal isn’t going to change - regardless who the British prime minister is, in my view.”

Mr Coveney was speaking in Cork where he announced details of a new customers service contract between Electric Ireland and Irish company Abtran, worth €30 million over three years with an option to extend for another four years. The contract will guarantee 260 jobs at Abtran's facility in Cork.