Britain faces chaos if it rejects ‘only deal on table’, says Coveney

Brexit deal the ‘least worst’ outcome, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald says

Ireland's Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for European Affairs Helen McEntee make a statement at Government Buildings in Dublin, Ireland November 14, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

Ireland's Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Minister for European Affairs Helen McEntee make a statement at Government Buildings in Dublin, Ireland November 14, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

 

Britain is facing chaos if politicians pull down the “only deal on the table” for its withdrawal from the European Union, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said.

Northern Ireland is being offered the “best of both worlds” with unfettered access to both Britain and the EU under the draft deal, he said.

There will be “minimal checks” on goods coming into the North from Britain to ensure no border controls are needed on the island of Ireland, but these would not impact “significantly” on trade.

“It is important to say there are already checks between Britain and Northern Ireland,” Mr Coveney told RTÉ Radio One.

“The EU has to have at least minimal checks to ensure it protects the integrity of its Single Market.

“But those checks will be minimal. They are not going to impact significantly on trade at all and, of course, Northern Ireland has the best of both worlds here, whereby they will have unfettered access into Britain, coming from Northern Ireland, and unfettered access also into the EU Single Market and Customs Union.

“If people could see it this way, that Northern Ireland is being offered, because it is special and has special case to make, the best of both worlds, for a trading environment in the future while still staying in the UK and leaving the EU.”

People living in the border counties who have been “feeling desperately vulnerable and saw themselves potentially as collateral damage” now have a draft treaty text they can believe in, he added.

‘Marathon negotiations’

But Mr Coveney warned that the “marathon negotiations” were not over and that British prime minister Theresa May has a battle on her hands to get the withdrawal deal ratified by parliament in London.

“We have a politics of Brexit in Westminster that is incredibly divisive and difficult and when the British prime minister says that there are difficult days ahead, she means it,” he said.

“But I I think her commitment, that she has followed through on, to Ireland and indeed to Britain, shows the kind of person she is.

“Now, she will need to show that mettle again, that power of persuasion again to bring her own party, those that are hardline Brexiteers in it, and others, on board to what is the only deal on the table.

“She will now confront people with a very stark choice — this is what Brexit looks like it. It is a compromise all round.”

Ms May will have to “persuade people that the consequences of not voting for this, of pulling it down, is chaotic, provides uncertainty for the future — we don’t know what the political consequences of that will be.”

‘No easy choices’

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe has said there are “no easy choices” in the Brexit deal, but is happy that the proposal does not undermine the Good Friday Agreement.

“We have an objective of what we need to secure for our island. The very fact the British government, prime minister May and her team, were willing to agree to this draft protocol last night shows the weight of the claim that we have and the recognition of it by the British government.

“We are in the realm now of where there are no easy choices. We are now in the phase of all this where the purity of a simple claim meets the sophistication and nuance of the Good Friday Agreement and the reality of integrated economies.

“It is the job of the Irish government to look at putting in place agreements that offer the best protection to us and the ability of mitigating many difficult consequences that could lie ahead.”

‘Least worst’

Earlier Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald described the draft Brexit agreement as the “least worst” outcome for Ireland.

But she warned there were a number of issues that needed clarity, including on the rights of Irish citizens in the North and the British attorney general’s understanding of the withdrawal deal.

‘What we have in front of us is a set of mitigations, the least worst, if you like, type of outcome,’ Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald said. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins
‘What we have in front of us is a set of mitigations, the least worst, if you like, type of outcome,’ Sinn Fein president Mary Lou McDonald said. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

“We have to be cautious about all these things,” she said.

“What we have in front of us is a set of mitigations, the least worst, if you like, type of outcome.

“Of course we have to be mindful to look at the provision of the backstop and test the durability of it.”

Ms McDonald said she had “a very good” conversation with British Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday night, which was less “fraught” than previous discussions.

She told RTÉ Radio One that one of issues she raised was the “very restrictive” definition of rights for Irish citizens in the North, who will be living outside the EU after Brexit, and which she said “falls short” of what was promised last December.

The loss of MEPs will “be the most direct manifestation of the fact that rights have been lost” and Europe was strongly of the view that access to the parliament could be afforded through the government in Dublin, she said.

“I think everybody now knows what Brexit means and it was always clear there was not going to be to be deal without particular protections for Ireland and without those protections being enduring,” said Ms McDonald.

“That is what I believe the British political system now needs to be reflect upon, that reality and that is not going to change. Ms May finally grasped that and now the challenge is for the House of Commons to grasp it too.”

Ms McDonald said she also asked Ms May for sight of the British attorney general’s legal advice on the draft agreement, as it was important to “share not only text of deal but share people’s understanding and interpretation of what the deal means.”