Coveney criticises Johnson and Hunt's ‘disingenuous’ Brexit debate

Minister for Foreign Affairs tells private gathering duo ‘should know better’ – sources

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has accused Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt of having an "utterly disingenuous debate" on Brexit in their contest to become British prime minister.

Mr Coveney, in comments made privately yesterday, described the Tory party leadership contenders as “people who should know better”.

Mr Coveney has dealt directly with Mr Hunt, UK foreign secretary, and Mr Johnson, Mr Hunt’s predecessor in the post, on Brexit. While senior Government figures have expressed concern about some of the comments made on the Border and the backstop in the Tory leadership race, they have generally refrained from criticising individuals.

However, at a private meeting of the Brexit stakeholder forum, which brings together Government, political and civic society figures, Mr Coveney criticised what he called the “utterly disingenuous debate between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt”.


He said both men are “well aware of the facts” of the situation. Both have pledged to renegotiate the current Brexit deal – which the EU has repeatedly said will not be reopened – and say they will change or scrap the backstop, the insurance policy to avoid a hard border.

A spokesman for Mr Coveney said the Brexit stakeholders forum “is a closed and confidential meeting” and that he could not comment on what was or was not said at it.

At the same meeting, Fianna Fáil Brexit spokeswoman Lisa Chambers raised the issue of whether all arms of the State, including the Defence Forces, are ready to deal with the fallout of a no-deal Brexit.

While this raised eyebrows among some of those present, it is understood Ms Chambers was referencing the capacity of the Defence Forces, which is enduring staffing difficulties, to help manage issues such as any post-Brexit checks away from the Border.

Meanwhile, the economic consequences of a no-deal Brexit were again highlighted when a fresh report from the Northern Ireland civil service warned that at least 40,000 jobs would be lost if the UK crashes out without a deal at the end of October.

The official warning comes a day after the Irish Government published its estimate that up to 55,000 jobs could be lost in the Republic in a no-deal departure.

The Northern Ireland report indicates that a no-deal Brexit would have a “profound and long-lasting” impact on the North’s economy and society. It states a rise in smuggling in Border counties and pressure on businesses from organised crime groups is also likely.

‘Immediate and severe’

The report, drawn up by officials based on expert advice, says that no deal would have “immediate and severe” consequences for the North’s competitiveness in the all-island economy and its place in the UK internal market.

In Dublin, an Oireachtas committee warned that no deal would have an especially serious effect on Border communities.

Elsewhere, at the European Parliament the nominee for presidency of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen pledged there would be no change to the backstop provisions of the withdrawal agreement. Speaking to MEPs, Ms von der Leyen said the new commission led by her would maintain the same position as its predecessor.

Mr Hunt and Mr Johnson have pointed to the new commission as possibly opening the door to change in policy towards the backstop in Brussels. But Ms von der Leyen dismissed this, meaning that Brussels remains on a collision course with the British government.