Johnson putting UK on ‘collision course’ with Ireland and EU – Coveney
Tánaiste meets new NI secretary Julian Smith as new PM demands backstop removal
British prime minister Boris Johnson’s approach to Brexit is “very unhelpful” and has put the United Kingdom on “a collision course” with Ireland and the European Union, Tánaiste Simon Coveney has declared.
Speaking after he met the new Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith, Mr Coveney was sharply critical of Mr Johnson’s House of Commons demands for the complete removal of the backstop, ruling out any compromises.
Saying that Mr Johnson’s speech had been “very unhelpful”, Mr Coveney questioned why the prime minister had made the demands.
“Only he can answer the question as to why he is doing that,” he added. “It has been made very clear from the Taoiseach, from Michel Barnier, from presidents Tusk and Juncker that the approach that the British prime minister seems now to be taking is not going to be the basis for an agreement. And that is worrying for everybody,” he added.
We will have to wait and see whether that message coming from London changes in the weeks ahead
Mr Coveney said the Government would continue to put in a “lot of effort and resource on ensuring that we are as ready as we can be for the impact of a no-deal Brexit on this island”.
“That would be very, very challenging for all political parties, for many businesses, for many sectors. We will do everything we can to try to mitigate against that damage,” he said.
“From a Brexit negotiating perspective it was a very bad day yesterday, and we will have to wait and see whether that message coming from London changes in the weeks ahead,” he added.
Mr Coveney said he outlined some the Brexit concerns of the Government to Mr Smith, although most of those discussions were about restoring Stormont.
He said his meeting with Mr Smith had been positive, and that he was optimistic political parties in the province would agree to form a government in the coming weeks.
However, the Northern Ireland Secretary of State rejected Mr Coveney’s “collision course” fears, saying that the UK, Ireland and the North did not believe this was the case, and that “we need to find solutions, particularly for the issue of the Border”.
I am going to be making sure that I push as hard as I possibly can to get these talks
“The prime minister was very clear to his cabinet yesterday,” said Mr Smith. “He wants to get a deal done, but we do need to have structured conversations with the EU, and I think they’re open to doing that.”
Insisting that it is imperative that the Stormont talks resume as soon as possible, Mr Smith said: “We have got to get these talks up and running. It has been going on far too long.
"I am going to be making sure that I push as hard as I possibly can to get these talks,” he said.
In a series of engagements on his first day in Northern Ireland as Secretary of State, Mr Smith also met Sinn Féin, the SDLP, the Ulster Unionist Party and Alliance.
The DUP was unable to meet him for “logistical” and diary reasons.
Asked how he would reassure the four other parties over their concerns that Mr Smith could be a “yes man” for the DUP because of Boris Johnson’s dependency on the votes of the party's 10 MPs to keep his government in power, he said that he would remind them about the Belfast Agreement.
“My responsibility as Secretary of State is to represent and work for every citizen in Northern Ireland and to work equally with every party.”