‘Britain needs a deal. Ireland needs a deal. EU needs a deal’ - Coveney
EU to express concern over lack of substantial progress on Brexit backstop
Simon Coveney would not be drawn on whether the latest UK plan to extend the backstop’s provisions to the whole of the UK was a basis for negotiation. Photograph: Getty Images
The EU summit on Friday will again give broad approval to the union’s Brexit negotiating strategy while expressing regret at the lack of progress on Ireland and urging the British to urgently make clear what they want.
EU member states’ Brexit ministers meeting in Luxembourg on Tuesday night gave the nod to a set of draft conclusions for the summit.
Echoing previous comments from the European Commission’s negotiating task force, the leaders will make explicit to the UK their willingness to move the EU position and “reconsider its offer” if the UK reconsiders its so-called red lines. These are membership of the customs union and the single market.
However, the draft conclusions insist on the need for “intensified efforts” in the talks, with “further clarity from the UK as regards its position on the future relationship”.
The EU has a legally operable and viable backstop proposal...the British government has rejected that proposal, but has not come up with an alternative that is viable
They will express “concern that no substantial progress has yet been achieved on agreeing a backstop solution for Ireland/Northern Ireland”.
Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney would not be drawn on whether the latest UK plan to extend the backstop’s provisions to the whole of the UK was a basis for negotiation.
“At the moment,” he said, “the EU has a legally operable and viable backstop proposal...the British government has rejected that proposal, but has not come up with an alternative that is viable, and that’s what they need to do.”
‘On the same page’
Ahead of the ministerial meeting Mr Coveney met EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier for an hour-long discussion, “both of us making it very clear that we’re on the same page”.
Mr Coveney said they had discussed progressing the talks over the summer in considerable detail, focussing on citizens’ rights in the North, the Border and “future relationship” issues.
He pointed to undertakings that had already been given by British prime minister Theresa May in the context of preserving the Belfast Agreement.
I think a no-deal Brexit is very, very unlikely, and that there is perhaps too much talk about it
“As far as I’m concerned the commitments the British prime minister has made in terms of protecting the Good Friday agreement, ensuring there would be no Border infrastructure post-Brexit, and even the language in her recent speech where she says she rules out any physical Border infrastructure or related controls on the island of Ireland ... she also says very pointedly that some people in Britain suggest that if we don’t put a border in place and then it’s up to the EU to do it if they want.
“She makes it very clear that that’s a nonsense argument, that actually Britain is the one leaving and there’s a responsibility on Britain to find a solution here. These are comments I think that are relevant whether or not there’s a withdrawal treaty text agreed.
“But having said that, I think we will agree a withdrawal treaty text. I think a no-deal Brexit is very, very unlikely, and that there is perhaps too much talk about it and grandstanding about it. Britain needs a deal. Ireland needs a deal, the EU needs a deal.”