Simon Coveney: No secret plan for the Irish Border
Westminster must define the Brexit it wants and not just the Brexit it wants to avoid
Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney: “Deal or no deal, the UK has responsibilities to Northern Ireland and peace on the island of Ireland and we expect those responsibilities will be honoured.” Photograph: Tom Honan
There is no secret plan for the Irish Border. Let me say that clearly.
In the last 48 hours, heightened pressure has come on the Government because of comments in Brussels and the ongoing impasse in the UK. It has even been suggested that the government is keeping something about the Border from the Irish people. We are not.
Throughout the Brexit process, the Taoiseach and I have been open and consistent.
We are not planning for the reintroduction of a border on the island of Ireland, deal or no deal.
We have a way to avoid a border in the deal. It has been the result of a painstaking negotiation, framed by UK red lines, which led to compromises on both sides, and which resulted in a withdrawal agreement endorsed by 27 European Union nations and the British cabinet.
That withdrawal agreement is the only deal on offer. We have heard commentary from some quarters that the EU would not stand by Ireland in reaching a deal with the UK. These predictions have been proven to be false.
The Confederation of British Industry in Northern Ireland has warned that the cost of a no-deal Brexit will be more than €5 billion a year
Similar prophecies of doom are now being bandied about on the basis of one answer from a spokesman who, by his own admission, was speculating. EU clarifications yesterday attracted less coverage.Ireland and the EU have lived up to our responsibilities, but we share responsibility for the peace process and the Belfast Agreement with each and every party and each and every MP in the House of Commons.
The backstop is the only mechanism agreed thus far to, in all circumstances, deliver on the UK and EU guarantee that there will be no hard border, including any physical infrastructure or related checks and controls after Brexit and at the same time protect the integrity of the EU’s single market and Ireland’s place in it.
And it explicitly protects the constitutional status of Northern Ireland, as provided for in the Belfast Agreement, and underlines that there will be no change in that constitutional status without the agreement of the people of Northern Ireland.
Westminster has a very big week ahead as it seeks to finally define what kind of Brexit it wants, and not just what kind of Brexit it wants to avoid. This is a matter for a sovereign parliament and a sovereign government and not for me to comment further on.
However, deal or no deal, the UK has responsibilities to Northern Ireland and peace on the island of Ireland and we expect those responsibilities will be honoured.
On Thursday, I will publish the heads of the laws needed for our omnibus piece of no-deal legislation
First and foremost among those responsibilities is the need to prevent the re-emergence of a hard border on this island.
To do this without a deal will not be easy. Before the withdrawal agreement, there was the joint EU-UK report of December 2017.
In that, the UK government committed to prevent a hard border by, if necessary, maintaining full alignment with the rules of the internal market and the customs union that support North-South co-operation, the all-island economy and the protection of the Belfast Agreement.
If the UK opts by indecision or choice to crash out of the EU, then that commitment, as well as the UK’s obligations as a co-guarantor of the Belfast Agreement, will remain.
We will continue to require solutions to avoid a hard border that are rooted in regulatory alignment and legal certainty and not just wishful thinking.
Northern Ireland needs those practical solutions now, rather than emotive rhetoric. The common sense of the Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce, campaigning organisation Manufacturing NI, the Ulster Farmers’ Union, and so many other cross-community business groups has been one of the real silver linings on the gathering Brexit cloud.
These are experienced businesspeople, from all backgrounds, who recognise the backstop is infinitely preferable to no deal and who have had the courage to say so publicly.
In recent days, the Confederation of British Industry in Northern Ireland has warned that the cost to Northern Ireland of a no-deal Brexit will be more than €5 billion a year.
This is a sobering reminder for all of us, but particularly public representatives with the capacity to influence the debate at Westminster.
On Thursday, I will publish the heads of the laws needed for our omnibus piece of no-deal legislation. The heads have been prepared by nine Ministers and their departments.
It will lead to publication of the full Bill on February 22nd. I will bring this to the Dáil in the week beginning February 25th.
When it comes to the Border I want to end on what the European Commission said again on Wednesday about its responsibilities to Ireland and the Border: “The EU is determined to do all it can, deal or no deal, to avoid the need for a border and to protect peace in Northern Ireland.”
Simon Coveney is Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs