British backstop alternatives ‘not even close’ to being acceptable to EU

Simon Coveney says any new proposals must guarantee to avoid a hard border

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said that existing British proposals for alternatives to the backstop – which include trusted trader schemes and checks on goods away from the Border – are “not even close” to being acceptable to the EU.

Mr Coveney stressed on Tuesday that the Government is open to alternatives to the backstop – but only if they achieve the same outcome as the guarantee to avoid a hard border that has proved a sticking point in London.

Mr Coveney was speaking in Prague, where he met the Czech foreign minister Tomas Petricek.

“Our message is simple: we want to work this out,” Mr Coveney told a press conference.


“If there are alternative arrangements to what has become known as the backstop . . . if the UK government has alternative arrangements that work and do the same job, we all want to hear what they are. And if that can be the basis for an agreement, great.

“But I think we need to be honest here, that the alternative arrangements that have been discussed to date, do not do the same job as the backstop – not even close. And so let’s not pretend that solutions exist when they might not,” he said.

‘Fractious and difficult’

Mr Johnson has suggested that a variety of elements, including trusted trader schemes and checks away from the Border, could replace the backstop, though he has also said that the UK will produce new proposals in the coming weeks. Mr Johnson's Brexit adviser David Frost will travel to Brussels on Wednesday to meet senior EU officials.

Mr Coveney also warned that the aftermath of a no-deal in October would be “fractious and difficult as we attempt to put the pieces back together”.

Mr Coveney is on a tour of EU capitals in advance of an expected intensification of activity on Brexit over the coming weeks.

Last week he visited Copenhagen for meetings with the Danish prime minister and foreign minister; on Wednesday he will be in Paris and on Sunday Mr Coveney travels to Warsaw where he will attend second World War commemorations with foreign ministers.

He will meet with the British Brexit secretary Steve Barclay in Paris on Wednesday.

Ireland’s interests

Meanwhile, the outgoing president of the European Commissioner Jean Claude Juncker spoke with the British prime minister Boris Johnson on the telephone on Tuesday. According to an EU account of the call, Mr Juncker underlined the EU’s support for Ireland and told Mr Johnson that the EU “will continue to be very attentive to Ireland’s interests”.

Mr Johnson also spoke to the Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte, a key EU power-broker, on Tuesday morning.

“The EU27 remain open to concrete proposals compatible with the withdrawal agreement: respect for the integrity of the single market and no hard border on the Irish isle,” Mr Rutte tweeted.

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy

Pat Leahy is Political Editor of The Irish Times