Coveney plays down Trump’s security adviser’s comments on Brexit

Tánaiste predicts Taoiseach’s meeting with Boris Johnson will happen within weeks

Tánaiste Simon Coveney at UCC meets ‘Tom’, an interactive paediatric patient simulator, as part of a demonstration of how 5G technologies will advance paediatric patient care. Also pictured are  UCC’s Professor Barry O’Reilly, Anne O’Leary CEO of Vodafone Ireland and Prof Helen Whelton of UCC. Photograph:  Naoise Culhane

Tánaiste Simon Coveney at UCC meets ‘Tom’, an interactive paediatric patient simulator, as part of a demonstration of how 5G technologies will advance paediatric patient care. Also pictured are UCC’s Professor Barry O’Reilly, Anne O’Leary CEO of Vodafone Ireland and Prof Helen Whelton of UCC. Photograph: Naoise Culhane

 

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has played down the significance of comments by US national security advisor John Bolton that America would enthusiastically back the UK if it opts for a no-deal Brexit when leaving the European Union.

Mr Coveney said it was important to remember there were many in the US Congress who have warned they would not support any US-UK trade deal if the UK government was do anything through its Brexit deal that undermined the Belfast Agreement.

Mr Coveney said the US system was very different to the Irish system, being composed of both the president and the White House on the one hand and the Congress and Senate on the other, with all trade deals having to be approved by Congress or its committees.

He said several key figures in Congress had been quite clear in their comments that the need for any Brexit not to undermine the principles of the Belfast Agreement including avoiding a return to a hard border on the island of Ireland.

“We’ve had some very strong language from some key politicians on Capitol Hill, saying clearly that unless the Good Friday Agreement is respected and protected through the Brexit process, they would find it very difficult to see how a trade deal could be concluded and approved.

“President Trump has made it clear he supports Brexit…that is the US government’s position but there is a system in the US that involves both the White House and Congress and the Senate in the approval of trade deals so it’s not as straightforward as people have made out.”

Mr Coveney made his comments when questioned about a report from London on Monday regarding Mr Bolton, who said that US would strongly support the UK by promptly signing a US-UK trade deal if Britain opts for a crash out Brexit on October 31st.

Mr Bolton told British prime minister Boris Johnson that Mr Trump wants to see a successful British exit from the European Union on October 31st and that Washington would be ready to work fast on a US-UK free trade agreement.

“If that (a crash out Brexit on October 31st) is the decision of the British government, we will support it enthusiastically, and that’s what I’m trying to convey. We’re with you, we’re with you,” Mr Bolton told reporters after his first day of meetings in London.

Asked when Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is likely to meet Mr Johnson, Mr Coveney, who was attending the launch of Vodafone’s 5G service at University College Cork (UCC), said he expected some announcement within the next few weeks on when such a meeting would take place,

“There isn’t a date agreed yet but both the Taoiseach and the prime minister have said they want to meet and that meeting needs to be scheduled now. A date hasn’t been agreed yet but I suspect that will happen in the next number of weeks but I don’t want to speculate on it.”

Mr Coveney said Mr Varadkar and Mr Johnson had a lot to discuss, not just about Brexit but also about the current political impasse in Northern Ireland, but he played down the possibility of any meeting leading to a break-through on Brexit.

“I don’t expect a meeting between the Taoiseach and the prime minister will solve everything. I think the Irish position is very clear and I think the British government understands that the EU position is also very clear, it’s the same as the Irish position.

“Unfortunately unless the British government changes its position on Brexit, then we are facing managing a no-deal Brexit which we hope won’t happen but unless the British government decides to change its approach, that’s the direction we are heading.”

Mr Coveney refused to be drawn on the possibility of Tory rebels such as former chancellor of the exchequer Philip Hammond engineering a vote in the House of Commons on September 9th to prevent a no-deal Brexit by Mr Johnson’s government on October 31st.

“There are different opinions within the Conservative Party on Brexit and it’s not helpful for me to comment on different perspectives in the Conservative Party. Ireland is focussing on what Ireland needs to do, which is prepare for all eventualities,” he said.

“We’re working with the EU to try and ensure we have a sensible managed Brexit agreed with the new British government – unfortunately the approach of the new prime minister makes that difficult but we will have to wait and see if that approach changes in the coming weeks.”