Ireland ‘not hiding’ from talks on avoiding no-deal Brexit, Tánaiste says

Coveney says State cannot do a side deal with UK as talks are being led by EU

The EU has rebuffed Boris Johnson's demand that it reopen the Brexit divorce deal. Johnson proposed that the backstop be replaced with a "commitment" to implement alternative arrangements as part of a deal on the post-Brexit relationship.

 

Ireland is “not hiding” from discussing Brexit but cannot do “a side deal” with the UK to end the uncertainty surrounding its departure from the EU, Tánaiste Simon Coveney has said.

“That’s not going to work. Our preparations have to be with the European Union, we are going to stay in the European Union, we have to work with our European partners if we don’t have a partner in the UK government,” he said.

During an interview on RTÉ radio’s Today with Miriam O’Callaghan show, Mr Coveney was asked about a story in Wednesday’s Irish Times which said the Government was refusing to engage with the UK on planning for a no-deal Brexit on October 31st.

The British government wants to talk to Dublin about managing a no-deal exit, but Irish Ministers and officials have declined, according to three people briefed on the contents of recent exchanges. The Government and EU leaders are sticking to the position there will be no discussions with the UK on how to manage a no-deal on the Border until after the UK has left the EU, sources in Dublin and Brussels said.

Mr Coveney said he had held discussions with the new Northern Ireland secretary Julian Smith and Brexit secretary Steve Barclay, but that Ireland cannot get into bilateral discussions with the UK on Brexit or allow the UK government to move away from its commitments under the Belfast agreement.

‘Ugly’

The Tánaiste also rejected suggestions that Ireland does not have contingency plans in place should the UK crash out of the EU without a deal.

“We have published dozens of documents including a lot of detail,” he said, adding that these explained how “ugly” a no-deal Brexit would be.

“We are not hiding, we are trying to work out the twin objectives of protecting the peace process and the economy. We are not going to do a side deal with the UK, it is an EU border. UK commentators don’t understand that.

“We want a deal that will allow frictionless trade and protect the Good Friday Agreement.”

Mr Coveney acknowledged that in the event of a no-deal Brexit there will have to be border checks and tariffs.

“We are trying to limit the damage of that,” he said.

Earlier, on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland, Mr Coveney had warned that Brexit is “potentially putting stress” on the Good Friday Agreement and the principles behind it. The backstop will mitigate against that damage taking place, he said.

“I think what we’ve seen in the last number of days, really is the new British government outlining its position firmly and the Irish Government and the EU responding firmly with their position.”

Same position

The position outlined by UK prime minister Boris Johnson on Brexit is “less compromising”, he said. “It’s not a surprise that the Irish Government has reiterated the position that we’ve held now for a number of years which is the same as the EU’s position.

“I think what Donald Tusk has said, what the EU Commission has said today is absolutely in sync with what the Irish Government said today and has been saying for many months, the withdrawal agreement is not up for renegotiation.”

When asked about the Northern Ireland Assembly, Mr Coveney said: “We have real work to do in Northern Ireland to help the parties find accommodation of each other.

“The last two weeks in Northern Ireland have not been good, the commentary has become coarse, divisive and difficult. I think we all understand why. More than ever there is an obligation on the two governments to show leadership and show unity together and a sense of purpose that we’re going to create positive momentum.

“I think it is realistic (power sharing), but it won’t be easy. We’ve spent the last 16 weeks or so talking about the issues that need to be resolved as a basis or a foundation for an executive to be re-established. I think there’s been a lot of good work in that period, even though there’s also been a lot of frustration because we had hoped to do it a lot quicker.”