Ireland has ‘no desire’ to delay Brexit progress, Coveney says

Hardliners urge Theresa May to walk away from talks if EU won’t move to second phase

 

There is “no desire” in Ireland to delay progress on the Brexit negotiations, Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said.

Mr Coveney said the Government did not want to veto the talks, after Taoiseach Leo Varadkar warned he was prepared to stand firm on the issue of the Irish Border.

Mr Coveney told BBC1’s The Andrew Marr Show on Sunday that Ireland wants a solution on the Border that “involves all of the United Kingdom acting as one”.

Asked if the Government was prepared to use a “veto” over the Brexit talks, he said the Government “certainly don’t want to be vetoing anything”.

He said he wanted the talks to move on to the second phase, about Britain’s future trading relationship with the EU, as the Government wants to be able to provide “the kind of certainty that many businesses are calling for” in Britain, Ireland and other parts of the European Union.

On Saturday, Mr Coveney said this Monday would be a crucial point in the discussions on finding a solution as to what happens with the Border when Britain leaves the EU.

The Minister, who succeeded Frances Fitzgerald as Tánaiste this week, said a breakthrough on the topic was needed on Monday or else European Council president Donald Tusk would not be in a position to bring a proposal to a summit of European Union leaders the following week.

‘Decision dates’

The Minister said he had previously talked about December 14th and 15th, the days of the summit, as “being the decision dates but actually Monday is.”

“The British prime minister goes to Brussels on Monday, she meets Michel Barnier and John Claude Juncker around 11am Brussels time and then she goes on to meet Donald Tusk for lunch,” he told reporters in Cork on Saturday.

“So these are important meetings for Ireland, these are important meetings in the context of Brexit, and these are very important meetings for Britain.”

In his BBC interview, Mr Coveney said there was “no desire” in Ireland to delay the Brexit talks process.

However, he added that “at the same time we have a responsibility as a Government to represent the interests on the island of Ireland - North and South - and let’s not forget that next year will be the 20th anniversary of the Good Friday agreement which is the basis for the peace process and relations between Britain and Ireland on the island of Ireland.

“And we believe that as an island, Ireland is uniquely vulnerable and exposed to a potential bad outcome from Brexit and that is why we are looking for more progress than we have in terms of understanding how the border issues in particular on the island of Ireland, and the north and south cooperation that has created a normality on the island of Ireland which is a hugely positive thing.”

The leaders of the remaining 27 EU states, including Mr Varadkar, have a veto on triggering the second phase of talks, meaning British prime minister Theresa May must be sure of support from Dublin for progress to be made.

Mr Tusk has said the Irish would be consulted on whether the UK’s offer was sufficient.

‘Parameters’

Mr Coveney said Ireland was not looking for the “full detail” on the Border solution in phase one of the talks: “What we are looking for though is the parameters within which we can be more confident that a solution can be found within phase two - and that is not an unreasonable ask.

“We would like to see a solution here that solves the border issues, that involves all of the United Kingdom acting as one.”

Ms May is due to travel to Brussels on Monday for talks with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker in the hope of securing a declaration that “sufficient progress” has been made on divorce issues like the financial settlement and the Irish border.

Ms May is facing fresh calls from hardline Brexiteers to walk away from the negotiating table if EU leaders refuse to sanction the start of the second phase of the Brexit talks at their December summit.

A series of prominent Tories including Jacob Rees-Mogg, John Redwood and former chancellor Lord Lawson have signed a letter urging Ms May to refuse to settle the UK’s “divorce bill” with the EU unless Brussels agrees to a series of new demands.

These include settling the terms of a free trade agreement “in principle” by the end of March 2018 and an end to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and the freedom of movement to the UK for EU nationals when the UK leaves a year later on March 30th, 2019.

“If the EU refuses to agree to these terms by the end of the December council, the UK — having exhausted every avenue — should suspend its participation in the negotiations and inform the EU that, unless they are prepared to talk to us seriously about a future free trade arrangement, we will revert to World Trade Organisation terms from March 30 2019,” the letter states.

The letter was organised by the Leave Means Leave group. Other signatories include Conservative former ministers Owen Paterson and David Jones and the Labour MP Graham Stringer.

PA