EU can be imaginative in Brexit talks, says Simon Coveney

Tánaiste hopes Border backstop will not be required but it is an ‘insurance mechanism’

Speaking during a visit to Germany, Tánaiste Simon Coveney has said that he thinks talk of a no-deal Brexit "is more of a negotiating position, than it is reality." Video: Reuters


Tánaiste Simon Coveney has said the European Union can be “imaginative” in Brexit talks – but only if London develops further EU departure proposals it presented last month.

Speaking in Berlin, Mr Coveney said he was hopeful the backstop mechanism – ensuring no hard border in Ireland even without a formal Brexit deal – would never be required, but said it was not optional.

“The British government has agreed to put the backstop in a legal text in a way that is legally operable,” he said, as an “insurance mechanism” to avoid negative consequences from a hard border returning to Ireland.

“That is an EU position as well as an Irish position and that is not going to change,” said Mr Coveney at a joint press conference with his German counterpart Heiko Maas.

London agreed in December to the principle of a backstop - - but has since rejected an EU draft text to this effect, keeping Northern Ireland inside the EU’s single market and customs union in a worst-case scenario.

British confidence

On Monday Mr Coveney suggested that British confidence of striking a deal would obviate the need for a backstop and should make it easier for London to sign up to it.

In Berlin, Mr Maas praised Mr Coveney as a “most passionate advocate” for the EU and promised even greater efforts to boost bilateral relations.

He insisted Berlin’s solidarity with Dublin remained firm, and that a no-deal Brexit and a hard border must be avoided.

“That is a very central point,” he said. “Insecurity or worsening of relations to Northern Ireland as a result of Brexit must never be allowed happen.”

Both foreign ministers warned that the window for agreement with London was closing rapidly.

Earlier, Mr Coveney told a high-profile audience of German ambassadors and business people in Berlin that Ireland was “profoundly grateful” in Brexit talks for “unswerving support … understanding of all our partners, not least Germany”.

“You know all about borders and you were quick to grasp the problem,” he told the audience in Germany’s foreign ministry, and reminded London that “hard decisions over the next couple of months” were necessary to avoid a disorderly EU departure that was in no one’s interest.

Besides avoiding a hard border and protecting peace in Northern Ireland, Mr Coveney said any agreement that respected the European Single Market and Customs Union would open “scope for a unique future partnership” with Britain.

Looking beyond Brexit, Mr Coveney said Germany, as second-largest inward investor to Ireland, was an “indispensable partner”, reflected in a new diplomatic and cultural push by Dublin in Germany.

Closer European ties were important given a wavering US commitment to post-war values and the transatlantic relationship which, Mr Coveney forecast, was “more than a passing phenomenon”.

Transatlantic trade

To limit disruption to transatlantic trade ties worth an estimated €1 trillion, both foreign ministers called on EU member states to tap their own relationships with the US and feed into a collective, European effort.

Mr Coveney suggested looking beyond the Trump White House to Congress and the federal states in a bid to underline the US national interest in “a united Europe, at peace with itself”.

Mr Coveney’s remarks echo those of French president Emmanuel Macron on Monday, who warned of “aggressive” US isolationism. The president told French ambassadors that his wish for a “strong, special relationship with London” would not be possible “if the cost is the European Union’s unravelling”.

On Tuesday British prime minister Theresa May said on that a no-deal Brexit, though not easy, “would not be the end of the world”.

In light of growing Brexit and US uncertainties, Mr Coveney called on fresh efforts – and a deadline – to complete the EU single market some estimate would generate an additional €1 trillion for the continent’s economies.

“We have been at this since 1957, that’s over 60 years,” he said. “Let’s just get on with it, name a date – I have said it should be 2022 – and just complete the market. Who in their right mind would say no to €1 trillion?”

Ahead of this week’s EU foreign minister meeting, at which Germany will be looking for progress on June’s migration deal, Mr Coveney said Berlin could rely on Dublin in the search for “pragmatic and generous” solutions to this challenge.