Coveney calls on Britain to remain in extended customs union post-Brexit

Minister for Foreign Affairs says Ireland sees itself as ‘a candid friend’ to Britain

The Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has called on Britain to remain in “an extended customs union and single market” after it leaves the European Union, to avoid a hardening of the Border.

Speaking in Cambridge to the British Irish Association on Saturday night, Mr Coveney said that Britain’s proposals for a streamlined customs arrangement appeared to be incompatible with maintaining the integrity of the EU’s single market.

“Streamlined customs arrangements are unlikely to be streamlined enough for businesses whose margins are tight. And while a customs partnership has some promise as an idea, this will simply not be feasible if it is undercut by the UK making trade deals with countries that don’t share our standards or systems,” he said.

“There is an obvious solution, if we really value the peace and prosperity that has brought us this far. And that is for the UK to remain in an extended Customs Union and Single Market, or some version of that concept, taking advantage of the new and comprehensive trade deals the EU is reaching with countries like Canada and Japan.”


Orderly Brexit

Mr Coveney said that Britain, Ireland and the rest of the EU should work towards ensuring an orderly Brexit with a “substantial” transitional period to offer certainty to businesses. He said Britain must remain in the single market and the customs union during the transition, a position backed by Britain’s Labour Party.

Earlier, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin told the meeting that the British-Irish relationship needed to be reinvigorated, proposing a number of measures, including a new British-Irish treaty. And he called for a special economic zone to be created for Northern Ireland and the border counties.

“A special economic zone in Northern Ireland could be recognised by the EU as being distinct from the rest of the UK in terms of single market and customs union access,” he said.

Mr Coveney said he had listened carefully to Mr Martin’s proposals and would consider them in a “non-partisan” way.

“Any approach or proposal that makes sense for better relations between Ireland and Britain we are open to, on something as fundamental as our future together. However, I would respectfully hope that the UK Government can also approach some of the big questions they face, on the basis of persuasive argument, tested approaches and facts as they emerge rather than party political positioning.”

Mr Coveney said the Government saw itself in the role of a “candid friend” to Britain, warning of the danger of shutting off options such as customs union membership before thoroughly testing them.

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton

Denis Staunton is China Correspondent of The Irish Times