Brexit: Ireland portrayed as ‘awkward’ on backstop, says McEntee

UK has obligation to ensure peace process in North is protected, says Minister for State

Speaking with Bloomberg TV, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said that it incumbent upon the British government to come up with a solution after the current Brexit agreement was rejected by Westminster. Video: Bloomberg TV

 

The UK must live up to its obligations under the Good Friday Agreement to protect the peace process and ensure Brexit does not lead to a hard Border in Ireland, Minister of State for European Affairs Helen McEntee said on Saturday.

Ms McEntee insisted a backstop to prevent a hard Border was “absolutely necessary” due to the UK’s red lines on leaving the single market and customs union.

The backstop would see the UK obeying EU customs rules if no wider trade agreement is settled during the transition period after Brexit on March 29th. The backstop would therefore ensure an open Border on the island of Ireland.

Ms McEntee told the BBC: “It is because of those red lines that a backstop is absolutely necessary.

“I think now, for some reason, the onus by the UK has been shifted back on Ireland. That we should compromise. That we are the ones that are trying to be awkward or difficult.

“We are protecting a peace process. There is an obligation on the UK to ensure that the peace process, the Good Friday Agreement, is protected.

“And any suggestion that they can walk away from that, we simply won’t accept that.

“We absolutely expect that the UK will fulfil its commitment, and will live up to its obligations because Brexit, or no Brexit, the UK Government is a co-guarantor of what is an international peace treaty.

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“And integral to protecting that peace treaty is ensuring that we never return to any kind of borders that we saw in the past,” McEntee told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Her comments come amid escalating tension between Ireland and the UK in the absence of a Brexit deal and the prospect of the UK crashing out of the European Union in March. One of the main sticking points is the inclusion of the backstop in the withdrawal agreement, that was roundly rejected by British MPs earlier in January.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on Friday said that in a no-deal scenario, a hard Border “would involve customs posts, it would involve people in uniform and it may involve the need, for example, for cameras, physical infrastructure, possibly a police presence or army presence to back it up.”

Speaking from the Swiss resort of Davos where he was attending the World Economic Forum, Mr Varadkar said: “The problem with that in the context of Irish politics and history is those things become targets,” the Taoiseach told Bloomberg Television during an interview.

A Government spokesman later clarified that the Taoiseach was not referring to Irish personnel or infrastructure. He “was asked to describe a hard border, and gave a description of what it used to look like, and the risk of what it could look like in the worst-case scenario.”

The spokesman said Mr Varadkar was “not referring to personnel and the Irish Government has no plans to deploy infrastructure or personnel at the Border”.

Following the Commons defeat for her Brexit deal British prime minister Theresa May vowed to seek concessions from the EU on the backstop. However, Mr Varadkar on Friday offered little indication of being willing to compromise on the backstop and said Ireland was being victimised in the Brexit process.

He said Ireland had already compromised in the Brexit negotiations and that withdrawal of the UK from the EU was potentially going to cause a lot of harm to other countries.

Ireland and the EU had already made concessions and they would continue to “help” move the impasse forward, he said.

“We could work with a Norway-plus model. We could work with a Canada model with special arrangements for Northern Ireland, ” Mr Varadkar said.

“We’re the ones already giving,” Mr Varadkar said. “The UK wanted a review clause in the backstop and we agreed to that, the UK wanted a UK-wide element, so why is it the country that is being victimised is the one that’s always asked to give?”

The Taoiseach said he had not yet seen any technologies that could solve the Border issue and said Ireland would not be giving up the backstop for a promise that it would be dealt with later.

“They don’t exist and nobody has been able to show them to me,” Mr Varadkar said

“Why would we give up a legal guarantee and something we know will work in practice for a promise to sort it out later, or a promise to invent technologies? That’s just not a serious position.

“People who say they’re against a hard Border and also against a backstop. That’s a contradiction.”

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