British approach to Brexit will not work, warns Coveney
Brexit secretary David Davis agrees to visit Border to get a sense of impact there
Britain’s secretary for Brexit David Davis and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney in London. Photograph: Victoria Jones/AFP/Getty Images
“Ireland is very uncomfortable with Britain’s decision and Britain’s current stance – to leave the European Union, but not only do that but also leave the common market and the customs union. Close the door fully and then expect that the door can be opened again for a free trade agreement,” he said.
“That is something that we think is not going to work in the context of a negotiation with the European side, who have a very different view. Like lots of negotiations, we’ve seen both sides outline a position but there will be 18 months or two years or maybe a lot longer than that to continue to negotiate and debate these issues.”
Blunt and frank
Mr Coveney described his meeting with Mr Davis, most of which was conducted with no officials present, as positive but blunt and frank. He said the Brexit secretary has agreed to visit the Border region for a deeper understanding of the potential impact there of Britain’s departure from the EU.
“I will not be a minister who will allow the relationship on the island of Ireland to go backwards because of Brexit, and I think David Davis understands in some detail following our discussion today the strength of feeling in Ireland on that issue,” Mr Coveney said.
“And he has agreed to come and visit the Border region with me, to meet people on the Border, to meet businesses on the Border. He will not only be there to listen to the detail, which I think he already understands, but to show people that he wants to understand the complexity of the Border issues on the island of Ireland, which Britain has a responsibility to provide solutions on, given the fact that it is a British decision to leave the European Union, not an Irish one.”
Mr Coveney’s meeting with Mr Davis came as divisions within the British cabinet over Brexit have become more apparent in recent days. Chancellor of the exchequer Philip Hammond has suggested that Britain could remain in the customs union for a transitional period after Brexit but other ministers are determined to make a clean break.
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, warned on Thursday that frictionless trade with the EU will be impossible if Britain leaves the single market. Mr Coveney said Mr Barnier was saying nothing new.
“Essentially, he’s reinforcing the point that there are consequences to leaving the European Union. You cannot expect to hold on to all the benefits of a free-trade arrangement with the common market while leaving the European Union and all the responsibilities, both financial and political and legal, that come with that. And that has been the European Union’s position from the start, which of course is what makes these negotiations more difficult but also puts Ireland potentially in a very vulnerable position,” the Minister said.