Brexit crisis: Coveney rules out any change in Ireland's backstop position

Brexit crisis: Coveney rules out any change in Ireland's backstop position

Tánaiste Simon Coveney has doubled-down on Ireland's hard-line Brexit stance by insisting the Government has no reason to change its backstop position despite growing fears over a no deal crisis in just 52 days time.

Mr Coveney ruled out any potential change in Ireland's position before Taoiseach Leo Varadkar holds crunch no deal talks with European Commission president Jean Claude Juncker on Wednesday.

Speaking on Monday as EU officials travelled to Dublin to privately inspect Ireland's no deal contingency plans yesterday, Mr Coveney told reporters Ireland will not back down on the backstop.

Asked after an EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels if there is "any point" in British prime minister Theresa May hoping for a change in position from Ireland, the Tánaiste said the Government has no reason to change its view.

"I understand she [Ms May] is visiting Northern Ireland [on Tuesday], and I welcome that, because I think people in Northern Ireland need re-assurance from the British government right now.

"But the Irish government's position is clear, and I think the EU's position is clear too. We spent 18 months negotiating the complexity of a withdrawal agreement, that withdrawal agreement is going through the ratification process on the EU side.

"Of course we want to provide assurances and clarity to the UK to assist in the ratification process on the UK side.

"But certainly from our perspective on some of the core issues, particularly on the Irish issue and the backstop, it's already a series of compromises that is actually designed around UK red lines.

"This is a UK plan as well as an Irish and a EU one, to solve a very important issue, to settle nerves in NI and border counties on the island of Ireland, and so we still advocate for that," he said.

Asked if MPs private meetings about a series of alternative potential plans to the backstop should be considered in more depth by the EU, Mr Coveney added:

"All I can say is the Irish protocol in the withdrawal agreement already allows for alternative arrangements for the backstop, and if they are there they can replace the backstop. That's always been the point here.

"The problem has been that none of those ideas around those alternative arrangements have actually stood up to scrutiny

"Our positioning is clear, we have a pragmatic solution that we know will work, it was agreed with the British government, and we expect them to follow through on that commitment."

Mr Coveney was speaking before Taoiseach Leo Varadkar travels to Brussels on Wednesday for two crunch Brexit meetings with European Council president Donald Tusk and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.

It is expected that while the meeting with Mr Tusk will be used to underline the EU's officially united Brexit front in support of Ireland, Mr Varadkar will be urged by Mr Juncker to step up Ireland's no deal plans.

The latter issue was underlined by the presence of EU backroom officials in Dublin on Monday as part of scheduled no deal emergency planning meetings with their Irish counterparts.

While the meetings are part of an EU-wide schedule of visits to capital cities - with Dublin ninth on the list and further meetings in Berlin later this week - there is significant focus on Ireland due to the hard border crisis.

Brexit crisis: Coveney rules out any change in Ireland's backstop position

Meanwhile, Dutch foreign minister Stef Blok has publicly backed Ireland's Brexit stance on a visit to the Irish border.

Speaking alongside European Affairs Minister Helen McEntee during a visit to Co Louth, Mr Blok said withdrawal agreement alternatives are "not realistic" and that the existing deal must not change.

Mr Coveney will separately travel to New York after cabinet on Tuesday before holding several meetings in Washington DC later this week with White House and various international foreign ministers later this week.

While the meetings - which will include an invitation to the national prayer day in DC - are on foreign policy, ISIS and the middle east, sources confirmed Mr Coveney will use the opportunity to underline the need for Irish Brexit company and diplomatic support.

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