'Don't know how many times we have to say it': Coveney again rejects backstop removal

'Don't know how many times we have to say it': Coveney again rejects backstop removal
Simon Coveney pictured today. Picture: RollingNews.ie

The Government "does not know how many times it has to say it" before Westminster really believes the withdrawal agreement between the EU and Britain is not for changing, Tánaiste Simon Coveney says.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs was speaking in Cork as British MPs prepare a number of amendments to come before parliament on Tuesday, including one from Graham Brady that suggests Theresa May's deal would be backed if the backstop is removed.

Mr Coveney said such a proposal is a non-runner, and that the withdrawal agreement between Britain and the EU cannot be undone: "The withdrawal agreement from an Irish and EU perspective has already been negotiated. The compromises have already been made. All of the things now being proposed, whether they be time limits or exit clauses from backstops and so on, were discussed in detail during the negotiations, and were shown not to work.

"A backstop with a time limit is not a backstop at all. Unless you have a mechanism that kicks in after that time limit, which we don’t have. I don’t see the withdrawal agreement changing. I don’t see a withdrawal agreement without a backstop being supported at EU level or being ratified by the European Parliament."

I don’t know how many times we have to say it before people really believe that in London.

MPs have to think about what they are voting for, Mr Coveney said, because such actions can be rendered moot from an EU perspective.

"I’m not going to tell the British parliament what they should or should not be voting on, all I would say is that parliamentarians in Westminster need to think not only about what can potentially get a majority in Westminster but also what can get EU approval also," he said.

"There are two sides to this negotiation. In my the EU and European Parliament will not ratify a withdrawal agreement that does not have a backstop in it...The deal was thrashed out over two years and is no longer a negotiation, but a ratification process.

"The withdrawal agreement is already a series of compromises...that negotiation is done, it is over. We’re now at the ratification process of that, not a continued negotiation.

"It’s pretty non-controversial stuff, it’s about protecting British and EU citizens’ rights, it’s about a financial settlement that is fair, it’s about a transition period between two and four years to allow a future relationship in all of its detail and complexity to be protected, and it is about protecting a peace process on this island, where there is a 300-mile border.

"There isn’t an appetite to reopen a balance of compromises that takes into account British red lines and concerns and EU concerns. It is unreasonable to ask for that withdrawal agreement to be reopened," Mr Coveney said.

It was "really extraordinary" that British MPs are still unsure of what they want, he said.

"What is really extraordinary about all this is that with 60 days to go to the date Britain is formally due to leave the EU, we still don’t know what Britain wants. We still don’t know what parliament in Westminster will vote for in terms of their ask of the EU. We know what they don’t seem to want, but not what they want, so it is very hard for Ireland and the EU to plan and respond," he said.

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