Coveney says EU will agree ‘some package’ to help May sell deal

Taoiseach predicts ‘nasty surprise’ for those expecting EU27 unity to crack

Simon Coveney: said such a package must not be ‘unreasonable’ or ‘put an unfair burden on Ireland’. Photograph: Hannah McKay/Reuters

Simon Coveney: said such a package must not be ‘unreasonable’ or ‘put an unfair burden on Ireland’. Photograph: Hannah McKay/Reuters

 

The European Union will agree a “package” to help UK prime minister Theresa May pass the Brexit withdrawal deal in the House of Commons, Tánaiste Simon Coveney has said.

However, Mr Coveney, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, said such a package must not be “unreasonable” or “put an unfair burden on Ireland”.

Speaking at the all-island civic dialogue in Dublin Castle, Mr Coveney said any requests from the UK for an extension to the Brexit negotiating period must be accompanied by a specific plan of what will be done with the additional time.

He said an extension from Brexit day on March 29th until the end of June seems “natural” since the new European Parliament will meet for the first time at the start of July, after the European elections at the end of May.

“There needs to be a plan,” Mr Coveney said of any extension. “This just can’t be kicking the argument down the road in the absence of getting a result.” Mrs May has said she will not seek an extension.

The main obstacle to the Brexit withdrawal agreement being passed in London is the backstop, the insurance clause that seeks to avoid a hard border in Ireland if the EU and UK cannot agree a post-Brexit trading relationship.

It would see the EU and UK maintain a common customs territory, with add-ons, in both customs and regulations, for Northern Ireland to keep the Border open.

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‘Fragile balance’

When asked if a codicil or a “surgical” addition to the Brexit deal could be drafted to help assuage British concerns, Mr Coveney said: “We’ll have to wait and see. Undoubtedly there will have to be some package.”

Mr Coveney’s spokesman said this was a reference to the political declaration, the looser document which sketches out the anticipated future relationship between the EU and UK and not the legally binding withdrawal agreement.

Mr Coveney later told the Reuters news agency such a package cannot “involve fundamentally compromising the fragile balance that was put together in finalising the withdrawal agreement”.

Reuters also reported that EU and British diplomatic sources said Britain could accept legally binding assurances on the backstop that would not require reopening the withdrawal agreement.

At the same event in Dublin Castle at which Mr Coveney spoke, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said Britain’s ability to reach trade deals and agreements with other countries would be damaged if it left the EU without a deal.

“Countries all over the world are looking at the United Kingdom and wondering is this a country that is going to be able to make agreements, ratify them and stick to them.”

No crack

On reports that Ireland may have Border checks with Northern Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit, or have checks between the island of Ireland and mainland Europe, Mr Varadkar said such a prospect had not been discussed and rejected it as an idea.

“We can’t allow a decision made in Britain to leave the European Union to undermine our membership of the single market and customs union, which we will protect. I don’t see how it would avoid a hard border. It would create a hard border between Ireland and the European Union, and that is not something we can accept.”

He also said anyone expecting the unity of the EU27 to crack in the weeks ahead will be in for a “nasty surprise”.

Mr Varadkar said there was “certainly a hardline rump of MPs” who wanted a no-deal Brexit, but added the vast majority understood the damage such a situation would cause.

Mr Coveney also met Northern Secretary Karen Bradley, and leaders of northern political parties, in Belfast on Friday night as part of efforts to restore the Stormont Assembly.

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