Brexit withdrawal treaty not up for renegotiation, says Coveney

Backstop should not be seen as a concession by one side to the other, Tánaiste says

Simon Coveney says the backstop was ‘fair and balanced, a ‘middle ground measure’ that is a fallback position as a last resort. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne

Simon Coveney says the backstop was ‘fair and balanced, a ‘middle ground measure’ that is a fallback position as a last resort. Photograph: Clodagh Kilcoyne

 

Insisting that the Brexit withdrawal treaty is not up for renegotiation, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has again vigorously defended the Northern Ireland backstop.

Speaking to journalists on his arrival in Brussels at a meeting of EU foreign ministers, the Tánaiste emphasised that he was not intervening in the Brexit debate in the House of Commons but insisted that the backstop was “fair and balanced”, a “middle ground measure” that is a fallback position as a last resort.

It should not be seen as a concession by one side to the other. He said “both sides signed up to it” as a necessary measure “to protect peaceful relations on the island of Ireland”.

He disagreed with weekend comments of former president of the European Commission Romano Prodi who had suggested that the EU would have to restart negotiations once the deal had been rejected by the House of Commons. Mr Coveney said that “it was clear all across the EU that the deal is the deal”. All agreed that the treaty which had taken two years to negotiate could not be reopened, he said.

He said that the ruling of the European Court of Justice on Monday morning allowing the UK unilaterally to revoke its Article 50 application to leave was not a surprise. It was right, he said, that “Britain’s future is a matter for Britain.”

Arriving in Brussels, British foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt emphasised in a response to a question on the backstop that the EU is “very clear it is not willing to open up the withdrawal agreement, and that this is a best and final offer.”

He urged MPs to back prime minister Theresa May tomorrow when her deal with the EU is voted on and said that there were real risks “if we don’t grasp the opportunity while it is there”.