Coveney urges Britain to ‘show some honesty’ around Brexit amid tensions in North

Scrapping Protocol ‘isn’t realistic” but EU could demonstrate ‘flexibility’ in implementation

Mr Coveney also said he didn’t accept unionist claims that checks and inspections on some goods traveling between Britain and the North “undermines their Britishness”. File Photograph

Mr Coveney also said he didn’t accept unionist claims that checks and inspections on some goods traveling between Britain and the North “undermines their Britishness”. File Photograph

 

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has urged Britain to “show some honesty” around what it signed up to on Brexit as he warned of rising tensions among loyalists in the North.

Scrapping the Northern Ireland Protocol, as some unionists have demanded, “just isn’t realistic”, although the EU could demonstrate “flexibility and pragmatism” in how it is implemented, he insisted.

Mr Coveney also said he didn’t accept unionist claims that checks and inspections on some goods travelling between Britain and the North under the post-Brexit arrangements “undermines their Britishness”.

“I don’t agree with that but can understand how that perspective has developed and many have really forced that messaging, and added a language of the identity of politics to the Protocol that really has fired up many in the loyalist community in particular who feel this is threatening their identity,” he said.

Mr Coveney said “we are all working to ensure that we have a calm summer, but it wouldn’t take a lot to spark, primarily young people, to lash out as they did in April because of the perceptions that many have, that they haven’t been listened to, that their tradition isn’t being respected, that they have in someway been outmanoeuvred through the Brexit process and the implementation of the Protocol.”

Speaking at an online discussion organised by the Keough-Naughton Institute for Irish Studies at Notre Dame University, Mr Coveney there was a need to be “honest with people” that there was no “credible” alternative to the Protocol.

The British government spent years with the EU in designing, ratifying and agreeing to implement the agreement which was about “reducing disruption.”

“To scrap it and replace just isn’t realistic and it is important that I am honest about that, even though some people don’t want to hear it,” he said.

‘Flexibility’

While there was a “a need for the EU to show some flexibility and pragmatism” over its implementation “there is a need for the British government, in particular, to show some honesty around what has been agreed, why it was agreed, and the disruption it has prevented,” he added.

On claims by some in the unionist community that the protocol contravened the principle of consent in the Belfast Agreement, Mr Coveney said “there was no consent in Northern Ireland for Brexit in the first place.”

“Brexit is the disruptor here , not the Protocol. The Protocol was designed to limit the disruption of Brexit,” he added.

Asked about whether the reunification of Ireland was inevitable in the wake of the UK pulling out of the EU, Mr Coveney said he didn’t think anything was inevitable but that he would like to see it “at some point in the future”.

“But I also know there is an enormous amount of work to do to rebuild relationships in a way that ensures the unionist community aren’t fearful of that,” he told the webinar.

“They may not like that idea but I think many in the unionist community feel almost under siege about that perceived threat.”

Mr Coveney says a way needs to be found to talk about reunification “that is not threatening.”

But he insisted it was a “perfectly legitimate” ambition to be debated.

“Sometimes unionists say to me you mustn’t mention a united Ireland or Border polls, yet virtually every unionist that gives a political speech talks about the defence of the union,” he added.

Mr Coveney said reunification is going to be a “big debate” in Ireland that has already begun and “Brexit has in many ways accelerated that”.

“That has caused tensions but we need to find a way of addressing the issue to allow different perspectives to be heard and understood so people don’t have to hide their views,” he added.