Coveney wants Sinn Féin in Commons for Brexit vote

Minister for Foreign Affairs says May’s deal offers Northern Ireland ‘best of both worlds’

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Simon Coveney at the opening ceremony of the 79th Fine Gael ardfheis in Citywest. Photograph: Donall Farmer

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Simon Coveney at the opening ceremony of the 79th Fine Gael ardfheis in Citywest. Photograph: Donall Farmer

 

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has urged Sinn Féin to take its seats in the House of Commons for the vote on the draft Brexit treaty, saying that the lack of nationalist voice in Westminster was “skewing the debate”.

“I would certainly like to see Sinn Féin being part of voting on what happens to the deal,” Mr Coveney told journalists at the Fine Gael ardfheis in Citywest, Dublin, on Friday night.

“If this vote in Westminster is lost by two or three votes and Sinn Féin are standing outside speaking to the media, but not voting, I think people will rightly ask some pretty serious questions of them.”

Mr Coveney said that the majority view in favour of the draft Brexit treaty on Northern Ireland was now being heard and that the treaty offered the North “the best of both worlds”.

“One of things you’re hearing over the last 48 hours is the majority view in Northern Ireland that actually this is better deal than no deal and that the Irish backstop isn’t so bad when you look at it,” Mr Coveney said.

“In fact what the Irish backstop is effectively offering Northern Ireland is the best of both worlds: frictionless access into the EU single market and frictionless access into the British market as well.”

Reality check

He praised UK prime minister Theresa May, saying she was “providing a reality check in Westminster to Brexiteers who were selling Brexit as a far more simple proposition ... The idea that people can just reject [the draft agreement] now, and that something could replace it that would be better, I think is unrealistic. And that’s why Theresa May has been very blunt with people. This is what Brexit looks like.”

“People have a choice to make,” Mr Coveney added. “It’s either this deal or it’s a chaotic no-deal Brexit or potentially it triggers a series of events that unravels the whole Brexit project itself. And I think when you look at those options, this deal starts to look a lot more attractive.”

Later Taoiseach Leo Varadkar welcomed Fine Gael delegates to the convention centre at Citywest, where 2,500 delegates are expected to attend on Saturday. Mr Varadkar will deliver his televised address to the conference at 5.30pm on Saturday.

General election

Mr Varadkar and members of the Cabinet presided over a session on foreign affairs and Brexit on Friday night. Further sessions begin at the Dublin venue on Saturday morning and continue all day.

Opening the ardfheis, party vice-president Gerry O’Connell urged delegates to prepare for a general election “whenever it comes”.

Talk of a possible general election was everywhere at the event. In his message in the conference programme, Mr Varadkar warns members that an election could happen at any time.

Brian Murphy, Mr Varadkar’s chief of staff, told delegates that the executive council of the party “will need to liaise closely with the membership as we prepare for the forthcoming local and European elections, as well as continuing preparations for a general election, whenever that might arise”.