Boris Johnson’s suicide vest comments ‘extraordinary’, Coveney says

Tánaiste says ex-UK foreign secretary did not speak out on backstop plan when in government

A file image of Tánaiste Simon Coveney with Boris Johnson (right) at Iveagh House in Dublin earlier this year. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times.

A file image of Tánaiste Simon Coveney with Boris Johnson (right) at Iveagh House in Dublin earlier this year. Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times.

 

Tánaiste Simon Coveney has described as “ill-judged” and “extraordinary” claims by Boris Johnson that Theresa May’s Brexit strategy had strapped a suicide vest around the UK constitution and handed the detonator to Brussels.

Speaking to reporters in Cork, Mr Coveney said a piece written by Mr Johnson and published in the Sunday Mail contained some “very unhelpful comments”.

“And I think they are ill judged and will offend a lot of people,” he added.

Mr Coveney, who is the Minister for Foreign Affairs, said negotiators were working with Ms May and her Government to assemble the basis of a deal that would allow the UK to leave the bloc in a way that takes account of both Britain and the EU’s concerns.

“The British prime minister to her credit last December made a commitment to people in Northern Ireland and to Ireland generally that she would ensure that there would be no physical border on the island of Ireland in the future and no related checks and controls,” he said, referencing the UK-EU backstop agreement.

“Those commitments were made when Boris Johnson was part of that government. He was there for the two years since the British people decided to leave the European Union in a referendum. He was not speaking out publicly certainly against the Irish backstop at that time.”

Weakling

Mr Johnson had also described Ms May’s proposal on Brexit as a humiliation for Britain, which looked like a seven stone weakling being comically bent out of shape by a 500lb gorilla.

Mr Coveney said it was “extraordinary” that the former foreign secretary was now taking an “aggressive position” to try and “undermine” the work he was involved while a member of the British cabinet.

“And more importantly to try and undermine the British prime minister who is trying to do the impossible at the moment given the division in the British political system among most political parties on the kind of Brexit Britain wants or doesn’t want. ”

The Tánaiste said the Irish Government would continue to work with Ms May and that he hoped those trying “to undermine her are not successful”.

“Because I think that is going to be very damaging to Britain if they are and I also think it creates huge challenges for us here in Ireland.”

Ms May’s spokesman said he did not want to give Mr Johnson’s comments “further oxygen” as insisted the prime minister was “fully focused” on the Brexit negotiations.