Coveney: Anyone who threatens peace process will not be forgotten

Tánaiste Simon Coveney has insisted that the Good Friday Agreement and peace in the North is more important than economics as he defended the Brexit Irish backstop.

Addressing the Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA), Mr Coveney reiterated that British prime minister Theresa May had still not put forward an alternative to prevent a hard border.

Picture: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Westminster voted this week for her to go back to Brussels and renegotiate the backstop in the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.

But the EU and Ms May are locked on a collision course, with a rejection from the union and Ireland to reopen the deal, especially the insurance policy guaranteeing a frictionless border on the island or Ireland.

Addressing the IIEA today, Mr Coveney warned that time was running out, amid fears of a no deal and Britain crashing out of the EU.

We have less than two months to go now until Brexit happens on 29 March. We are, quite simply, running out of road.

But he highlighted the need to protect the Good Friday Agreement and peace in the North with the backstop, maintaining this was “more important” than economics.

Anyone who threatened that peace would not be forgotten, the audience at the Gresham Hotel were told today.

“It is vitally important that politicians in Westminster understand the overwhelming wish across society in Northern Ireland not to return to the borders and division of times past,” he added.

The Tánaiste maintained that Ireland and the EU were open to Brexit being delayed, by extending Article 50.

“The key factors here will be the reasons for any possible extension, and the proposed duration of it. But, as I have said before, Ireland has an open mind about this, if it is something the UK chooses to request.”

Nonetheless, he reiterated that no alternatives to the backstop had been proposed yet by Downing Street, including a so-called technical solution or other ways to prevent a hard border.

Earlier, Mr Coveney criticised Ms May's decision to, in line with the MPs vote in the House of Commons, seek to renege on the Withdrawal Agreement and open up the backstop.

He said that Mrs May was unfortunate that her party had voted against the approach she had originally recommended.

But Mr Coveney said it wasn’t negotiating if the person said ‘give me what I want or I’ll jump out the window.’

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