Britain negotiating with itself causing problems, says Coveney

Tánaiste warns London not to let internal cabinet politics stymie Brexit talks progress

The last notes of Amhrán na bhFiann, played by a German army band, had long passed and the canapés had all but vanished by the time Tánaiste Simon Coveney arrived at a prestigious Munich foreign affairs event.

He was supposed to deliver a keynote address on Ireland beyond Brexit to mark the 70th anniversary of the Bavarian Foreign Affairs Association.

Instead he and his team spent an hour circling over a thunderstorm in Munich, refused permission to land, and arrived at the Munich venue too late to deliver his address.

But he held his bilateral meetings with Bavarian and federal politicians attending, and warned London not to let internal British cabinet politics stymie progress on Brexit talks ahead of the June EU summit.


"Internal challenges of British politics are not a matter for me," Mr Coveney told The Irish Times. "Part of the problem is that Britain is negotiating with itself and not negotiating in Brussels with EU negotiators and that has been the problem for many months now."

Reminding London of its commitment to make a significant push before this month’s council, he added: “No one is expecting the backstop to be concluded at the end of June but these things don’t get any easier with time.”

Last week’s British technical paper as “a step forward” but said the challenge now was finding a legally operable final text.


Mr Coveney was speaking in Munich and on Wednesday he will be in Berlin where he hopes to step up Irish engagement with the 16 federal states, in particular the Bavarian powerhouse.

“Bavaria’s economy is one of the top 10 in Europe and a very influential political contributor to the political discussion in Germany and the EU,” he said. “We will be opening a new consulate in Frankfurt in the next 12 months and a second one in Germany in Munich in the 12 months after that.”

German politicians and academics attending Tuesday evening’s events welcomed the prospect of closer co-operation with Ireland on Brexit and beyond.

Mr Niels Annen, minister of state at the foreign ministry in Berlin, said Germany remained fully supportive of Ireland in Brexit talks and shared its concerns.

“We don’t want a hard border; everything achieved here in the last years cannot be endangered,” he said.

Closer co-operation with Ireland would not be overshadowed by promises in the new programme for government to tackle “tax dumping” by named US technology companies almost all based in Dublin.

“We merely want to seek a dialogue with Ireland,” said Mr Annen, a senior MP of the centre-left Social Democratic Party. “We don’t see this as directed against one country or against Ireland. That is not our style.”

Concrete co-operations

Leading Bavarian figures at Tuesday’s event saw huge potential for closer co-operation with Bavaria and Ireland.

Prof Werner Weidenfeld, founder of Munich’s Centre for Advanced Political Research, suggested Ireland identify and pursue concrete co-operations in research projects, such as Bavaria’s ambitious new space research centre.

“Ireland is a country with strong sense of self and homeland but also innovative and future-oriented,” he said. “The Bavarians are very open for co-operation with like-minded peoples on this front.”

Dr Horst Mahr, director of Bavaria’s Foreign Affairs Association, singled out Irish woman Susan Walsh, founder of Munich’s Globe Business College, for building bridges between Bavaria and Ireland in uncertain times.

“Dr Walsh has shown tremendous energy and ability,” he said, “for developing this relationship in a positive way”.

On Wednesday Mr Coveney will deliver a keynote address at Berlin’s Humboldt University and, among other appointments, meet Bundestag president Wolfgang Schäuble.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin