Brexit: Tory-Labour talks vital to future of Ireland, Coveney says

Tánaiste warns City of no-deal danger to North if Stormont institutions still suspended

Brexit talks between Theresa May's government and the British Labour Party could determine the future of Britain and Ireland, Tánaiste Simon Coveney has told an audience in London.

Speaking after meetings with politicians including Labour's Jeremy Corbyn and Keir Starmer, Mr Coveney said the talks represented the best hope of resolving the impasse over Brexit at Westminster.

“The future of both of our countries may well rely on the outcome of those talks. So while it will be very difficult given the division both within parties and across parties in Westminster to find solutions on Brexit, I do think there is a serious effort by both parties,” he said. “I don’t expect that process to be easy and you shouldn’t either. But we do need to give it a chance because I think it is our best chance right now of finding a way through a very, very difficult, divisive and corrosive debate, quite frankly, across British society.”

Mr Coveney was speaking at the Ireland Funds Great Britain annual City lunch at London's Mansion House, which was attended by many leading Irish figures in business, law and financial services in the British capital.


Sense of urgency

He expressed concern that the six-month extension to article 50 agreed by EU leaders last month had led some at Westminster to relax their sense of urgency about resolving Brexit.

He warned Conservatives that a new leader will not be able to reopen the withdrawal agreement or change the terms of the Northern Ireland backstop.

"There should be no illusions in the United Kingdom that a change to the political circumstances here and a change to the personalities in terms of the political leadership will convince the EU to make changes to the withdrawal agreement, which wasn't designed on the basis of personalities. It was designed on the basis of evidence and facts and legal agreements that are required to deal with the complexity of what's happening right now," he said.

‘Vulnerable’ North

The Tánaiste said the resumption of talks between the parties in Northern Ireland was a positive move but he warned of the danger of a no-deal Brexit while the Stormont institutions remained suspended.

"I believe Northern Ireland is in a more vulnerable place now than it has been at any time during the last 21 years since the peace agreement. And think about this for a second: if a failure of politics results in Britain leaving the European Union without a deal in place, Northern Ireland in my view will be the most vulnerable part of these islands in terms of the exposure to the downside of that," he said.

“And they won’t even have their own government to make decisions to put contingency plans in place. And I think that the pressures that are already there in a very divided society in Northern Ireland will be very difficult to contain for both the British and Irish governments trying to work together in response to that.”

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times