Britain ‘wants it both ways’, claims Coveney
‘We have a guarantee and we intend holding the British government to those guarantees’
“We won’t do it,” he told RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke show on Wednesday, after MPs in the House of Commons voted on Tuesday to support Theresa May’s deal if the prime minister secures changes from Brussels to the Northern Ireland backstop.
“The UK wants it both ways, no red lines and no backstop,” Mr Coveney said.
He accused the British government of using the negotiating tactics of a person who says ‘give me what I want or I’ll jump out the window.’
“We owe it to the people of Ireland, north and south. We cannot approach this negotiation on the basis of threats.
“We have a negotiated outcome that is now not being followed through on.”
The Irish Government approach has not changed from the outset, he added.
“We have a guarantee and we intend holding the British government to those guarantees,” he said. “We had an agreement here. The prime minister signed up to it.”
He said that Mrs May was unfortunate that her party had voted against the approach she had recommended.
“There are solutions available to the prime minister, she could reach out to the opposition. For the first time we are seeing proper engagement between the prime minister and the head of the opposition.”
The Irish position is not going to change, he said, while acknowledging avoiding a hard border is going to pose a huge challenge.
The ‘insurance’ mechanism - the backstop - had been agreed but then was fundamentally changed to accommodate the UK’s “red lines”, he said.
“Ireland helped to lobby to change it. Michel Barnier helped. She signed up for it, for her government to back it.”
However, parts of the Conservative Party “want a different Brexit” and Mrs May is having to accommodate them, undermining her own position.
“Surely the responsible thing the Irish Government has to do is to hold the UK government to their word.”
The anxiety about red lines needs to be solved, he said.
What exactly is the backstop?
It is an insurance policy written into the withdrawal agreement, or Brexit treaty, guaranteeing no harder border on the island of Ireland.
It would only be used as a last resort or the default option if the EU and UK could not reach an overarching free trade deal that would make trade so frictionless that there would be no border between the EU and the UK, including on the frontier between Northern Ireland and the Republic.