Coveney: EU will respond in a 'positive way' should Brexit 'red lines' be relaxed

Coveney: EU will respond in a 'positive way' should Brexit 'red lines' be relaxed
Simon Coveney

Tánaiste Simon Coveney says Ireland and the EU will respond in a "positive way" to any potential move by Britain to relax its Brexit "red lines" amid claims the DUP wants all of Britain included in any future EU customs union deal.

Mr Coveney said Dublin and Brussels are open to responding to any potential future relationship declaration changes despite insisting that the separate withdrawal agreement and backstop stance will not be re-opened.

Speaking at an event in Cork, as British prime minister Theresa May prepares to publish a 'Brexit plan B' on Monday and as Conservatives MP Boris Johnson claimed the backstop has "got to come out", Mr Coveney said Ireland remains steadfast on the backstop.

However, asked about reports that the DUP may want the EU plan to keep Northern Ireland in the customs union to be expanded to all of Britain, thereby reducing the need for a backstop - claims which DUP leader Arlene Foster yesterday denied - the Tánaiste said Ireland and the EU would respond in a "positive way" to such moves.

"I know the DUP well enough to know that if I encourage them in one direction they may go in the direction. They’ll make their own decisions. I respect the DUP and recognise that they have a view. It’s not a view that I share in relation to their concerns about the backstop. Nobody wants to ever use it [the backstop], because we want a comprehensive future relationship that makes it unnecessary and should it ever be used, the intention is only to use it on a temporary basis until something more permanent is agreed."

"Our position on the backstop remains consistent. The EU’s position remains in complete solidarity with Ireland and that is why you’ve heard Michel Barnier, Donald Tusk and Jean Claude Juncker all saying that the withdrawal agreement isn’t up for negotiation and the backstop is part of that. That said, I think if it is possible to see a change in the red lines that the British government have outlined to the conditions of Brexit that they’re looking for, then the context around the future relationship discussion, and therefore any potential use of the backstop in the future, could change quite significantly," he added.

Michel Barnier’s been very clear this week, and I think I and the Taoiseach have too, if Britain chooses to change its red lines, I would like to think that the EU is ready to respond to that in a positive way and a helpful way. But that is a matter for the British parliament, which of course the DUP are part of," Mr Coveney said.

The Tánaiste's comments came as British prime minister, Theresa May, prepares to publish a Brexit plan B after the initial EU-UK Brexit deal was defeated last week in the worst defeat for a British government in parliamentary history.

The plan B document will be published on Monday, before it is also voted on by the House of Commons on January 29 - exactly two months before Britain is due to leave the EU.

Preparations for the plan were complicated yesterday when Conservatives MP Boris Johnson said that the backstop "has got to come out" and that last week's vote has given Ms May a "mandate" to seek the change.

Meanwhile, DUP leader Arlene Foster has downplayed reports yesterday that her party may be open to a softer Brexit which would allow the existing plan to keep Northern Ireland in the customs union to be extended to all of Britain.

Ms Foster said: “We want an agreement which returns control of our money, our laws and our borders through a UK wide FTA with the EU. The story in the Times [of London] is an attempt to cause division."


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