‘We’re all in trouble’ if new PM tears up Brexit deal – Coveney

Tánaiste says it is like saying ‘give me what I want or I’m going to burn the house down’

Speaking on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, Tánaiste Simon Coveney warns that “we’re all in trouble” if the new British prime minister decides to “tear up” the proposed agreement covering the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.


Tánaiste Simon Coveney has warned that “we’re all in trouble” if the new British prime minister decides to “tear up” the proposed agreement covering the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

Speaking to the BBC, Mr Coveney said threatening to rip up the agreement was “a little bit like saying: ‘Either give me what I want or I’m going to burn the house down for everybody.’”

The Minister for Foreign Affairs was speaking as the race for the leadership of the British Conservative Party to determine the next UK prime minister enters its final days. Frontrunner Boris Johnson has threatened to pull the UK out of the EU with no agreement at the next deadline on October 31st.

Mr Johnson has, during the campaign, described the withdrawal agreement as a “dead letter” and demanded that the contentious “backstop” – the insurance mechanism in the agreement that keeps the UK under EU economic rules if there is no other solution to avoid a hard Irish border – be removed.

Both Mr Johnson and his rival Jeremy Hunt have said they want to leave at the end of October and are looking to renegotiate the agreement with the EU, a position that Brussels and Dublin have rejected.

The two contenders have said they are leaving open the possibility of a no-deal Brexit to strengthen the UK’s hand in negotiations, though the British parliament voted last week to rule out this option.

The British parliament has rejected the proposed withdrawal agreement three times amid concerns that the backstop solution for the Border could keep the UK parliament tied to the EU indefinitely.

Mr Coveney told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday that the backstop could not be removed from the withdrawal agreement.

“The EU has made it very clear that we want to engage with the new British prime minister, we want to avoid a no-deal Brexit but the solutions that have been put in place to do that haven’t changed,” he said.

The Tánaiste said in the event of no deal, the State “will have no choice but to protect its own place in the EU single market” and that checks “of some sorts” would have to be carried out on the island of Ireland.

Writing in the Sunday Times, Mr Coveney said Northern Ireland is “more at risk” from no deal “than any other part of these islands” and warned that it would “devastate the Northern Irish economy with tariffs and rules that will fundamentally disrupt the all-island economy upon which so much progress has been built.”

“There are claims that Northern Ireland won’t be hurt too badly in a no-deal scenario,” he wrote.

“This contrasts with the measured but sobering warnings of the Northern Ireland Civil Service that no deal would have a profound and long-lasting impact on the Northern Ireland economy and society.”

He pointed to the comments of the recently-appointed chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland that a hard Brexit would have an “absolutely detrimental” impact on the peace process.

He urged British politicians to listen to regional farming and fishing groups and the “diverse business lobby in Northern Ireland” who strongly support the backstop and withdrawal agreement.

“As we enter a critical period, where so much is at stake for the people of these two islands, it is important that we are honest and realistic about the impact of decisions on people who have not chosen to leave the EU,” he said.

He described the withdrawal agreement as “a balanced document that deals with the complexity and interests of all parties and is not something that is up for renegotiation.”