Theresa May’s departure will not fix Brexit issues, Coveney says
Officials believe a new PM determined to deliver no-deal exit would be difficult to stop
Tánaiste Simon Coveney (right) said the EU position on Brexit would not change with a new prime minister, suggesting that the stated aim of Boris Johnson (left), to renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement would put him on a collision course with the EU. File photograph: Jack Taylor/AFP/Getty Images.
The issues thrown up by Brexit for the UK and Ireland will not change as a result of a different prime minister being in Downing Street, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said.
Speaking after Theresa May announced a plan to resign on Friday, Mr Coveney said the questions of how to protect the peace process and the EU customs union and single market “have been there from the start and they are not going to go away just because there is a different leader with a different turn of phrase”.
He also said the EU position would not change because of a new prime minister, suggesting that the stated aim of Boris Johnson, the frontrunner to replace Mrs May, to renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement would put him on a collision course with the EU.
Mr Coveney declined to comment on the Conservative leadership contenders, though he acknowledged that he did not agree with Mr Johnson on many Brexit related issues.
“But one thing I will say very clearly: while the personalities may change, the issues won’t. Brexit will remain complex and difficult,” Mr Coveney said.
“Ireland will remain exposed and vulnerable to a bad deal and my job and the job of the Taoiseach is to protect Irish interests and to protect our relationship with the UK, to protect a peace process, North and South, and to protect our place in the EU and its customs union and single market.”
Mr Coveney praised Mrs May, who he said “understood the vulnerabilities of Ireland [and] the responsibilities of the UK towards its neighbours . . . That is why she signed off on the withdrawal agreement and it’s why she was a strong defender of the need for the backstop as an insurance mechanism, as a fallback position, as a temporary arrangement while permanent arrangements can be discussed and agreed, should the backstop ever be needed,” Mr Coveney said. “And that logic and those issues aren’t going to go away just because you have a new British prime minister who may have said things that counter or undermine Theresa May’s position in the past,” Mr Coveney said.
“I think the EU will remain steadfast. I think the solidarity with Ireland is going to remain. This isn’t just about the personality of Donald Tusk, Jean Claude Juncker and Michel Barnier, who may have different roles or no roles in European institutions by the autumn, but it’s been signed off by all governments across the EU,” he added.
Senior Government sources echoed Mr Coveney’s stance that the issues facing a new leader would remain the same as those that Mrs May was unable to overcome. However, they expect that candidates for the Tory leadership will promise to negotiate a new agreement or leave the EU on October 31st without a deal.
Although the British parliament has previously blocked a no-deal departure, some senior officials believe that a prime minister who was determined to go through with a such an exit would be difficult to stop. This belief was echoed by the Institute for Government, a London think-tank, in a paper published this week.
A brief statement by Government Buildings wished Mrs May well, saying that the Taoiseach looked forward “to working closely with her successor”.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin also focussed on the renewed danger of a no-deal Brexit and said that “those of us entrusted with positions of leadership must remain vigilant and stay alert to the threat of a no deal Brexit”.
“We must also ensure that this development is not used to further delay the restoration of the Executive and Assembly in Northern Ireland, ” he said.
Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said the “chaos at Westminster” should not “derail progress” in the ongoing talks aimed at restoring powersharing in Northern Ireland.