Tánaiste plays down impact of UK Brexit secretary

The Government are more focused on policies than personalities, says Coveney

Tánaiste Simon Coveney played down the impact of Davis’s move. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

The Government's focus in negotiations on Brexit is more on policy than personalities, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said.

Speaking after the resignation of the UK's Brexit secretary David Davis late on Sunday, Mr Coveney played down the impact of the move and said he was not surprised by the decision. He said deep divisions in the Conservative Party and the cabinet over the UK's EU departure had been apparent for some time.

Mr Davis has been replaced by Dominic Raab as Brexit secretary. Mr Raab was previously the minister of justice, but found himself out of a job just a year later when Theresa May took over.

“Our focus is on the policy direction and I’ve always said repeatedly that we take our lead in terms of the British position from the prime minister (Theresa May) and I think the changes in the British negotiating position on Brexit over the last few days have been welcome,” he said.


Crunch cabinet meeting

The Tánaiste welcomed “the repositioning” of the British government regarding Brexit which followed a crunch cabinet meeting on Friday from which a clearer picture of the UK’s intentions about leaving the EU emerged.

Mr Coveney said he believed this was a case of Ms May “showing her authority and I think many people have been impressed by that and now obviously there’s some kick back which isn’t surprising”.

He said there were “a lot of big personalities in the British government and they have been quite vocal” on the issue of Brexit but he was reluctant to speculate on whether there might be more resignations from Ms May’s cabinet.

What had emerged from Friday’s UK cabinet meeting at Chequers, including a proposal for a new EU-UK customs union, was “not the finished article” but it did provide the basis for serious negotiation which needs to proceed at pace to meet an October deadline for reaching an exit deal, he said.

“As far as I am concerned there is a British government position that has been confirmed by the British prime minister and her cabinet in the last two days that I think helps to move the Brexit process forward somewhat, and that’s where I think our focus should be.”

White Paper

Mr Coveney said he hoped the publication of a White Paper on Brexit on Thursday by Ms May would lead to "a settled British government position" that would enable chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier to enter more focused talks.

“Hopefully we can get those talks underway next Monday so we can get a withdrawal treaty agreed by the end of October and can put the basis for a future relationship in terms of setting the parameters for negotiation also along that time line so we don’t have much time here,” he said.

"There really is only about eight weeks of negotiations left and from what the Taoiseach has said and I've said, the repositioning of the United Kingdom from the Chequers meeting is welcome and we should not be distracted now by some of the political challenges going on at Westminister."

Mr Coveney said that he had not met Mr Davis’s successor as Brexit secretary, Dominic Raab and while he knew he was pro-Brexit, he also believed he was “a talented , competent and experienced politician”.

“I look forward to meeting Dominic Raab and I hope and have confidence that he will be advocating for the position that the British prime minister has outlined and let’s hope we can move the negotiations forward on that basis.”

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times