Brexit: DUP cannot be allowed to veto deal, says Coveney

Tánaiste says post-Brexit border that satisfies Britain and European Union ‘doable’

Tánaiste  Simon Coveney  speaking in Government Buildings on Thursday about Brexit preparedness. Photo: Julien Behal

Tánaiste Simon Coveney speaking in Government Buildings on Thursday about Brexit preparedness. Photo: Julien Behal

 

The Democratic Unionist Party cannot be allowed to veto a Brexit deal on the Border, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said.

Mr Coveney said the issue of the backstop agreement, that would ensure no hard border in a no-deal Brexit scenario, had turned into a “green and orange issue”. However, the Government did not want to “undermine or threaten the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom in Brexit negotiations”, Mr Coveney said.

“That is not what this is about and unfortunately some people have turned the mechanism to get this famous backstop agreed as that kind of agenda which it isn’t,” he added.

(Need a refresher on what happened this week? Read Simon Carswell’s Q&A)

Speaking on the Marian Finucane show on RTÉ radio the Tánaiste said an agreement on the post-Brexit Border that satisfies both Britain and the European Union is “doable”.

Mr Coveney said he is hopeful for significant progress by October despite a week that saw British prime minister Theresa May accuse EU leaders of driving Brexit negotiations into an impasse after they rejected her Chequers plan for Brexit.

“The really sticky issue at the moment is can we find a solution on the backstop. I believe we can,” Mr Coveney told the Marian Finucane show on RTÉ radio. “Hopefully we will make significant progress on it by the leaders’ summit in October, to be concluded in November.

“The British government has committed in the last 48 hours to producing new text on that in terms of their approach and what’s needed is an intensification of engagement in the negotiation teams,” he added.

He said he believed the the DUP would accept that Northern Ireland “is not the same as Kent or a borough in London” and it has “so many differences “ to other parts of the UK. He said, for example if a person is born in Northern Ireland they have a birth right to Irish or British citizenship or both.

He said there was “no question of a border down the Irish sea. What we are trying to ensure is that there are minimal checks required. If the United Kingdom is outside the customs union and single market and if goods travel from one customs union into another or from one single market into another there has to be some checking system.

“These are practical realities of trade and we are trying to do that in a way that doesn’t undermine the constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom in a way that is threatening to unionism but in a way that can protect the concerns of both unionists and nationalists neither of whom want a border re-emerging on the island of Ireland.”

This is a time for people in the EU to step back from the abyss, to sit down and to talk to us about how we can make these sensible, concrete proposals actually work - British foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt 

Mr Coveney told the programme he believed Britain and the EU would be weakened by Brexit and that Ireland would also be damaged because it is “caught in the middle”.

When asked if he had spoken to the DUP about the issues at hand he said they had and with other parties, adding: “ We cannot allow one party in Northern Ireland to veto any proposals.

“The British government has a confidence and supply arrangement with the DUP but we don’t have a confidence and supply agreement with any one party in Northern Ireland.”

Respect

On Friday, in a seven-minute televised address from Downing Street, the British prime minister said the EU should treat Britain with more respect and that its proposal to avoid a hard Border in Ireland would break up the UK.

British prime minister Theresa May speaking in Downing Street on Friday. Photograph: Jack Taylor/Getty
British prime minister Theresa May speaking in Downing Street on Friday. Photograph: Jack Taylor/Getty

“The EU is proposing to achieve this by effectively keeping Northern Ireland in the customs union. As I have already said, that is unacceptable. We will never agree to it. It would mean breaking up our country,” she said.

Ms May said Britain would set out its own backstop proposal, adding that it would include a commitment that there would be no new regulatory barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK unless the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly, which are currently suspended, agree.

The prime minister’s defiant statement followed an informal meeting of EU leaders in the Austrian city of Salzburg which left her humiliated when European Council president Donald Tusk and other leaders dismissed the economic proposals in her Chequers plan.

After the meeting, French president Emmanuel Macron, one of the fiercest critics of the Chequers plan, admonished Brexiteers that the Leave vote had been “pushed by those who predicted easy solutions,” adding: “Those people are liars.”

Mr Tusk, after a difficult closing meeting with May, did not help relations by posting a photograph on Instagram of him offering May a cake with the caption: “A piece of cake, perhaps? Sorry, no cherries” – a reference to the EU’s oft-stated refusal to allow the UK “cherry-pick” EU rules that it likes.

On Saturday, the UK’s foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt has urged EU leaders to “step back from the abyss” of a no-deal Brexit and to engage with Theresa May’s plan, so called because it was agreed in the PM’s country house in Chequers.

Following the angry clashes of the Salzburg summit, Mr Hunt said it was “counterproductive” to “insult” Britain’s referendum vote and to say the only way the UK could legally leave was by “breaking up your country”.

“What we need to be doing in a situation like this is bringing people together,” he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

“This is a time for people in the EU to step back from the abyss, to sit down and to talk to us about how we can make these sensible, concrete proposals actually work.”

Mr Hunt warned there would be “disruption” on both sides of the Channel in the event of a disorderly Brexit, with one estimate suggesting a million jobs could be lost across the EU.

“What Theresa May is saying is ‘Don’t mistake British politeness for weakness. If you put us in a difficult corner we will stand our ground. That is the kind of country we are,‘” he told the Today programme.

“Insulting her on social media, getting to these stand-offs where you are calling people liars and so on is not the way we are going to get a solution to this difficult situation.”