Simon Coveney says he ‘can’t believe we are still talking about Brexit’

German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock says talks need to avoid opening ‘old wounds’

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said he “can’t believe we are still talking about Brexit”, six years on from Britain’s decision to leave the European Union.

The debate around the Northern Ireland Protocol, which is the deal that governs post-Brexit trading on the island of Ireland, had gone on “too long,” Mr Coveney said.

The Minister reiterated the hopes of the Government that a final deal could be reached between Britain and the European Union on the operation of the protocol in the “coming weeks or months”.

Mr Coveney was speaking at a joint press conference with German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock in Iveagh House.

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“The protocol is not about one side winning over the other. The protocol is about trying to get a deal that all sides can live with,” he said.

“In some way we can’t believe we are still talking about Brexit six years later, given the enormity of some of the other challenges that are unfolding internationally,” he said.

The Government trusted the EU negotiators to protect Ireland’s interests in the ongoing talks with the British government, he said. “We want this to work, Brexit forces change, some of that change is not welcome and is difficult to manage,” he said.

“Of course we need to show flexibility. We need to understand the British position and the position of unionism in Northern Ireland in particular, who have genuine and real concerns on how that protocol is implemented,” he said.

The EU also had concerns when it came to the negotiations maintaining the integrity of the Single Market, he added.

Mr Coveney said the EU “has shown a willingness to make this work”, and there was a “real appetite” to find a deal.

Membership of the EU was “not just a source of funding” or economic opportunity, but also about “supporting each other’s stability during times of vulnerability,” he said.

Ms Baerbock was on a two-day visit to Ireland, ahead of a trip to the UK, where she is due to meet UK foreign secretary James Cleverly.

Speaking ahead of their meeting in a media interview Mr Cleverly criticised Germany’s position on the protocol as “purist” rather than practical.

Responding to the comments in Dublin, Ms Baerbock said Germany wanted the protocol arrangement to work “in a practical and purist way”. Her coalition government was 100 per cent behind the European Commission and Ireland in the talks, she said.

The Green Party politician said it was important to address the issues around trade and the Border “without opening up old wounds”.

“It was the decision of Great Britain to leave the Single Market and the customs union, it was not a desire or wish expressed by Europe. In so doing Great Britain laid the foundation for the Northern Ireland protocol,” she said.

While the integrity of the Single Market was the “heart” of the EU, the German government respected the need to maintain an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, she said.

Jack Power

Jack Power

Jack Power is a reporter with The Irish Times