Cowen criticises ‘unreasonable’ UK position on Brexit

Former taoiseach says backstop ‘highly unlikely’ to come into operation

Brian Cowen: “We did get a certain amount of clarity in the withdrawal agreement, which was so wrongly rejected by parliament.” Photograph: Julien Behal/PA Wire

Brian Cowen: “We did get a certain amount of clarity in the withdrawal agreement, which was so wrongly rejected by parliament.” Photograph: Julien Behal/PA Wire

 

The position of the British parliament over Brexit has been criticised by former taoiseach Brian Cowen as “unreasonable”.

The ex-Fianna Fáil leader was addressing a meeting of the Diversity Europe Group of the European Economic Social Committee at Queen’s University Belfast on Friday.

“There is less than 42 days left. There is a great failure in the negotiating process generally – not attributing any blame to anybody – that we have to come to this point where we don’t have the clarity that one would expect after two years of arduous negotiation,” he said.

“We did get a certain amount of clarity in the withdrawal agreement, which was so wrongly rejected by parliament. One of the reasons it was shaped the way it was shaped was that before the negotiation started, ‘We don’t want to be part of the customs union’ became a red line, ‘We don’t want to be part of the single market’ became a red line, ‘We want independent trade policy’ another red line.

“If you are going to go into a negotiation with that level of preconditionality where it’s a question of agree to these red lines before we start talking, then we shouldn’t be surprised if it comes out the way it comes out.”

Backstop ‘unlikely ’

Mr Cowen, who was taoiseach from 2008 to 2011, stressed his belief that there will be a trade agreement and that backstop arrangements are “highly unlikely” to ever come into operation.

“The backstop will not come into operation and yet we have a parliament withholding agreement to allow that transition period to take place so that negotiation can happen on the basis that it is there as a contingency in the first place,” he said.

“I just don’t think it is reasonable. I wouldn’t be popular for saying it, but I don’t think it is reasonable.

“I could have taken the position, I don’t think it’s reasonable we open negotiations on the basis you won’t even consider joining the customs union, but I have to respect the British government’s position, they don’t wish to join the customs union, I accepted it; Barnier accepted it; the 27 accepted it. We were prepared to hardwire a harder version of Brexit in the negotiations, and yet we are not allowed to have a contingency arrangement that protects the integrity of the single market.

“It’s in all our interests here on this island that that be the case. Do people want the situation where the international supply lines that come across borders all the time, that that ends?” – PA