‘Ireland will not be pushed aside’ in Brexit talks, Coveney says

Border will remain central issue, Minister for Foreign Affairs says

"Ireland will not be pushed aside," in insisting that the Border remains a central issue for the Brexit divorce talks, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney warned on Monday.

Speaking to journalists in Brussels, on the fringes of a European Union Foreign Affairs Council meeting, he strongly disputed British press suggestions the issue had been shelved for the phase one negotiations and reintroduced by the Irish out of the blue.

“I don’t accept that people who have been involved in these negotiations were surprised, which is the impression given by some, when the EU task force for the first time crystallised what they are asking for in relation to the Irish Border in the working papers that were given out last week,” he said.

“Some people hoped that Ireland and the EU task force would simply allow this issue to drift into phase two in the hope that it would be resolved through some form of trade agreement or trade partnership agreement in the future.”


He said that was “not a viable proposal”.

Invisible border

Mr Coveney said the UK’s “current proposals for dealing with the Border are not comprehensive enough and I don’t think we have a credible pathway to ensuring that we maintain what is largely now an invisible border”.

Referring to proposals from the UK in position papers in the summer, Mr Coveney spoke positively about the idea that it should elaborate on its proposals for maintaining “regulatory equivalence” in the North, in effect shadowing EU standards and rules on a continuing basis.

“Our preference is for Britain as a whole to remain within a customs union partnership which is part of the British paper as well, I’d like to hear them talk more about that,” he said.

The partnership proposal would involve the UK continuing to act as an external border for the EU by tracking goods imported from “third” countries, which are then re-exported to the EU with a view to imposing separate EU tariffs and controls on them.

The complex procedure suggested, which would obviate the need for a border in Ireland, has been attacked by businesses for imposing huge new administrative burdens on them. But Mr Coveney insisted that continued UK involvement in a customs union would not be enough. There would have to be a commitment to continued regulatory harmonisation.

‘Level playing field’

“If you have a different regulatory environment in areas like state aid rules, in areas like food safety standards, like agriculture . . . then it’s very hard to have a level playing field in the context of an all-Ireland economy,” he said.

“That is why this pretty firm language coming from the EU task force around the need to avoid regulatory divergence on the island of Ireland is very important.”

He insisted the Democratic Unionist Party could not have a veto on the talks.

“We respect the views of the DUP, but we respect the views of other parties in Northern Ireland. No one party should have the only say,” he said.

Anyone who tells me that something can’t be done because the DUP won’t accept it I don’t accept that.”

“Britain has a democratic right to decide on its own future, but Britain does not have a democratic right to decide on our future,” he said.

Both states have co-responsibility for the safeguarding of the Belfast Agreement and have to work to find common solutions, Mr Coveney said.

Patrick Smyth

Patrick Smyth

Patrick Smyth is former Europe editor of The Irish Times