Ireland would not object to Brexit delay, says Coveney

If such a request is made ‘and is justified’ Ireland will not stand in the way, says Minister

 

The Government would not object to a request from London to delay Brexit should an extension be sought to avoid the UK leaving in a damaging no-deal scenario, Tánaiste Simon Coveney has said.

Speaking alongside German foreign minister Heiko Maas in Dublin on Tuesday, Mr Coveney told reporters that the European Union would have to consider any request from the UK seeking to change the March 29th withdrawal date, but he added that the Government would not resist such a proposal.

UK media reports on Tuesday claimed British officials were exploring the possibility of extending the withdrawal date as the prospect of a no-deal Brexit looms given the political divisions at Westminster to the proposed withdrawal agreement reached between the EU and the UK.

“From an Irish perspective, if such an ask happens and is justified, we won’t be standing in the way of that but that is really a matter for the British government to make decisions on,” Mr Coveney said.

However, Mr Coveney, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, stressed that British prime minister Theresa May had made it clear that the UK would be leaving the EU as planned on March 29th.

‘Reassurance’

“That is why all the focus now needs to be on the deal and providing the clarifications and reassurance around the detail of that deal,” he added.

Stephen Barclay, the British Brexit secretary, played down the possibility that the UK might delay an exit beyond March 29th if Mrs May lost next week’s parliamentary vote on the Brexit deal. His colleague, digital minister Margot James, had on Monday said that Britain might have to extend article 50 if parliament opposed the deal.

Mr Maas said he did not really want to think about “the possibility of extending article 50 here and now” as it would “devalue” ongoing efforts to debate and ratify the withdrawal agreement in the UK parliament.

“Those who do so and who hope that is going to happen in order to have a better position for further negotiations run a great risk,” he said at Dublin Castle, where he addressed an annual gathering of Irish ambassadors and senior diplomats.

In his speech to the Global Ireland 2025 conference, Mr Maas urged British politicians “to act responsibly” and unite behind the draft Brexit agreement.

He said the final outcome of Brexit was still “up in the air” with less than three months to the UK’s exit and a no-deal scenario was “still an option, despite the serious damage that this would cause on both sides”.

“There is too much at stake to take this lightly,” he said.

‘Stubborn’

Mr Maas said Germany fully supported the backstop guarantee within the Brexit agreement, which seeks to avoid the return of a hard border on the island of Ireland after the UK’s departure from the EU.

“We insisted, and still do, that a hard border dividing the Irish island is unacceptable and yes, some people called us stubborn,” he said, adding that avoiding a hard border was “a fundamental concern,” “a matter of principle” and “a question of identity for the European Union”.

“As Germans, we understand how walls and borders can threaten peace,” he said. “We believe in the peace-making power of European unity, a belief we share with you, the Irish. Your Good Friday Agreement is living proof of this principle.”

Mr Maas also told the conference that Germany would be supporting Ireland’s candidacy for one of the rotating seats on the UN security council for 2021 and 2022 in an election in June of next year. Ireland is competing with Norway and Canada for the seat.

He said Germany would support Ireland “because we know that you share our commitment to multilateralism, pragmatism in the search for peace and a passion for human rights”.