Alternative to Brexit withdrawal agreement ‘not realistic’

Dutch foreign minister visits Border region and says backstop is result of UK’s red lines

Dutch foreign minister Stef Blok at the Border in Co Louth:  hearing first-hand the effects of the Troubles is “very different” from reading about them. Photograph: Aoife Moore /PA

Dutch foreign minister Stef Blok at the Border in Co Louth: hearing first-hand the effects of the Troubles is “very different” from reading about them. Photograph: Aoife Moore /PA

 

The Dutch foreign minister has said another outcome to the withdrawal agreement is “not realistic” during a visit to the Irish Border.

Stef Blok travelled to Co Louth on Monday to learn more about the implications of a crash-out Brexit on Border communities and said hearing first-hand the effects of the Troubles “was very different” from reading about them.

“The backstop is not there because the European Union asked for it, but because the UK has drawn a number of red lines,” Mr Blok said.

“It is the result of more than two years of negotiations, so after 2½ years of negotiations, it’s not very realistic to expect that there will be a completely different outcome.

“The EU has shown unity throughout negotiations and there is no reason to change that unity. We are willing to listen to any proposals made by the UK, but until now there haven’t been any specific proposals.

Past violence

“This is a border that is not really a border, it’s like something you would see between two municipalities.

“I have heard from people who have lived here all their life, there was violence, their lives were influenced by the situation here and they don’t want to return to it.”

UK prime minister Theresa May is expected to travel to Brussels on Tuesday following last week’s vote in the House of Commons which urged her to negotiate an alternative to the backstop.

Mrs May has said she will travel armed with “a fresh mandate” to “agree a pragmatic solution” for Brexit.

Minister of State for European Affairs Helen McEntee and representatives from InterTradeIreland and Co-operation Ireland joined Mr Blok on the visit.

Awaiting proposals

“We’ve always said that we will take on board any proposal, but we’ve spent two years looking at every possibility and what we have come up with is the backstop,” Ms McEntee said.

“We’re almost two weeks on from the vote, and we are yet to see any proposals that we believe would work.

“To ask Ireland to compromise now from what we see as an integral part is like asking us to compromise on the Good Friday Agreement, to compromise on the peace we have collectively achieved.

“This is not about scaremongering, this is about protecting peace which has taken 20 years to develop which is still very fragile.”

Tánaiste Simon Coveney was meeting Mr Blok at a bilateral dinner on Monday night to discuss Brexit and other global issues. – PA