Coveney urges progress on backstop agreement in next month

Minister claims UK only ‘partially’ addressed issue in context of customs thus far

There is an urgent need to see progress on the Irish backstop in the next month, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said.

Speaking after a meeting of EU Brexit ministers, he pressed the UK to come forward with new and comprehensive proposals on the issue.

The onus was on the UK – and there is an acceptance of that reality in the UK, he said – to respond to detailed European Commission proposals for the Irish protocol to the Withdrawal Agreement. To date the British had only "partially" addressed the backstop, and only in a context of customs, he said.

"What is needed now is a much more comprehensive proposal from the British side in terms of how they see the backstop that they have already committed to repeatedly." Mr Coveney attended the meeting to hear a report from chief negotiator Michel Barnier on his assessment of the UK's Brexit White Paper. He said that "we know from the British prime minister in Northern Ireland today that she does not want to see any border infrastructure in place . . . and that she wants a solution that's consistent with the agreement in December.

That “backstop” agreement stated that, in the absence of another solution for the Border, Northern Ireland would effectively remain within the EU customs union.

“So we need to see a wording that is legally operable so that we can get some confidence into the system of negotiations.”

He said that the British White Paper “deserves and needs serious consideration”. He urged the “intensification of the technical discussions” with British representatives, and echoed Mr Barnier’s call in respect of controls in the Irish Sea for a “dedramatisation” of some of the issues.