Anglo Irish relations ‘tested’ over Brexit talks
Brexit negotiations over Irish border to come to the fore next month
The relationship between Ireland and the United Kingdom is being “tested” for the first time in several years over the Brexit negotiations, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times
The relationship between Ireland and the United Kingdom is being “tested” for the first time in several years over the Brexit negotiations, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said.
Discussions over how to deal with the Irish border after Britain leaves the European Union are due to come to the fore again next month, with the end of June set as a deadline for substantial progress on the issue.
“The politics of this in Westminster is very difficult, that’s no secret. But I do think there is a very real effort now going on to try and deliver progress in June,” Mr Coveney said.
Speaking at an event marking the 20th anniversary of the successful referendums adopting the Belfast Agreement, he said “new thinking” was needed from the British Government.
The June deadline for progress on what the north-south border would look like post-Brexit, comes ahead of the deadline to have the overall British withdrawal agreement from the EU settled by October.
Mr Coveney said he was confident significant progress could be made next month, particularly around the “customs discussion”, but said he did not think “everything will be agreed by the end of June.”
The Irish Government had an “open mind” when it came to how the solution for the border would be found, but he said the EU had been clear there “will not be a withdrawal agreement, if there’s not a legally operable backstop.” The backstop is an agreement that regardless of the final Brexit negotiation result there will be no return to a hard border in Ireland.
Speaking at the panel event on the Belfast Agreement in Dublin, grand secretary of the Orange Order Mervyn Gibson said a technological solution to the border problem was possible, given “we can fly people to the moon, we can go to Mars,” he said.
Shutting down the suggestion technology could allow Northern Ireland and the Republic to operate in different customs regimes without border checks, Mr Coveney said there was no border in the world where such a system existed. He said a “political solution” rather than a technological one would be needed to resolve the problem.
However if there was some “magic solution” to the border issue that had not been discussed, that removed the need for a backstop agreement, the Irish Government would be “very happy” with that, he said.
Delivering a speech at the event in Iveagh House, Mr Coveney said the “best possible renewal” of the political commitment of the Belfast Agreement was for politicians to restore the Northern Ireland Executive.
In January 2017 Sinn Féin pulled out of the Executive, and since then talks to restore power sharing with the Democratic Unionist Party have come to nothing. Criticising the stalemate, Mr Coveney said twenty years ago politicians across Ireland and the United Kingdom overcame obstacles “far greater” than those facing political leaders today.
As part of the event, Mr Coveney committed an additional €1 million towards the reconciliation process, a portion of which would be invested in examining challenges faced by minority Unionist communities along the border, he said.