Coveney insists Government will hold firm on backstop agreement

Dublin open to ‘new thinking’ but will be inflexible on proposals for Border infrastructure

Tánaiste Simon Coveney categorically ruled out some of the technical solutions to the Border issue that have been advanced from the British government. Photograph: Virginia Mayo/EPA

Tánaiste Simon Coveney categorically ruled out some of the technical solutions to the Border issue that have been advanced from the British government. Photograph: Virginia Mayo/EPA

 

Tánaiste Simon Coveney has insisted the Government will be “inflexible” on any border infrastructure but said Ireland was open to any “new thinking” from British prime minster Theresa May on customs arrangements after Brexit.

While opening the door to any new British proposals, anticipated before the June summit of EU leaders, Mr Coveney, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, strongly defended the principle of the so called backstop agreement which guarantees no new infrastructure or barriers between North and South.

“We have an agreement in writing from the British prime minister on multiple occasions that she will guarantee no physical infrastructure on the island of Ireland and [along] the Border,” said Mr Coveney.

He continued: “We have been flexible to listen to some new thinking but not flexible on the outcome in relation to infrastructure.”

Deadline

Mr Coveney was speaking at Farmleigh House following a meeting with the French foreign minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, where they discussed a number of issues including Brexit and the Middle East. Mr Le Drian said he saw June as the “ultimate deadline” for reaching accommodation on this issue.

The Tánaiste categorically ruled out some of the technical solutions that have been advanced from the British government. “We do not believe there is a solution to the Irish border issue that can be managed though technology, cameras, drones or scanning systems,” he said.

He said the British government might not like the idea of a backstop but the Irish Government’s position was that it protected the kind of normality that emerged from the peace process.

Compromises

Mr Coveney’s comments come in advance of the report of a British government subcommittee tomorrow which is expected to deal with the difficult matter of how to reconcile Britain’s aim to leave the customs union with retaining a frictionless border.

In an article in the Sunday Times, Ms May reiterated her intention to withdraw from the customs union without imposing a hard border in Ireland. “There will have to be compromises”, she said.

However, suggestions of a customs partnership where the UK would collect revenue on behalf of the EU has already been dismissed by pro-Brexit ministers including foreign secretary Boris Johnson, who portrayed the idea as “crazy”.

The DUP MP Sammy Wilson yesterday accused Mr Coveney of burying his head in the sand by refusing to consider technological solutions. He said what he portrayed as the Irish Government’s intransigent position would not work.