Ireland 'cannot do a side deal' with the UK, says Coveney

Ireland 'cannot do a side deal' with the UK, says Coveney

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney has warned that Ireland “cannot do a side deal” with the UK.

“That’s not going to work," he told RTÉ radio’s Today with Miriam O’Callaghan show.

"Our preparations have to be with the European Union, we are going to stay in the European Union, we have to work with our European partners if we don’t have a partner in the UK government.”

Mr Coveney denied that he has not been in discussions with the UK. He said he had meetings with the new Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith and Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay.

Ireland cannot get into bilateral discussions with the UK, he said, nor can the Irish government allow the UK government to move away from its commitments to Northern Ireland under the Good Friday agreement.

The Tánaiste also rejected suggestions that Ireland does not have contingency plans in place in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

“We have published dozens of documents including a lot of detail” explaining how “ugly” a no-deal Brexit will be.

We are not hiding, we are trying to work out the twin objectives of protecting the peace process and the economy. We are not going to do a side deal with the UK, it is an EU border. UK commentators don’t understand that.

“We want a deal that will allow frictionless trade and protect the Good Friday Agreement.”

Mr Coveney acknowledged that in the event of a no-deal Brexit there will have to be border checks and tariffs. “We are trying to limit the damage of that.”

Earlier, on Morning Ireland, Mr Coveney had warned that Brexit is “potentially putting stress” on the Good Friday Agreement and the principles behind it.

The backstop will mitigate against that damage taking place, he said in an interview that took place in Belfast on Tuesday night.

“I think what we've seen in the last number of days, really is the new British government outlining its position firmly and the Irish government and the EU responding firmly with their position.”

The position outlined by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Brexit is “less compromising”, he said. “It's not a surprise that the Irish government has reiterated the position that we've held now for a number of years which is the same as the EU's position.

“I think what Donald Tusk has said, what the EU Commission has said today is absolutely in sync with what the Irish government said today and has been saying for many months, the withdrawal agreement is not up for renegotiation.

Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson

“The back stop is an integral part of that agreement and it's there for a good reason. It was designed by the UK and the EU and Ireland working together to try to provide reassurance to people living in Northern Ireland that they're not going to face the consequences of physical border infrastructure in the future on this island and that's why we are so protective of it.”

“Unfortunately we've seen the British prime minister say that he will no longer commit to the commitments that he in government made, when the commitments to Ireland and the EU were made in writing in December 2017.

Our position remains consistent, it remains fair and in my view is the only way that we will see a managed sensible Brexit. The choice remains for both the British parliament and the British government as to whether they want to work within those parameters.

When asked about the Northern Ireland Assembly, Mr Coveney said: “We have real work to do in Northern Ireland to help the parties find accommodation of each other.

“The last two weeks in Northern Ireland have not been good, the commentary has become coarse, divisive and difficult. I think we all understand why.

“More than ever there is an obligation on the two governments to show leadership and show unity together and a sense of purpose that we're going to create positive momentum.

“I think it is realistic (power sharing), but it won't be easy. We've spent the last 16 weeks or so talking about the issues that need to be resolved as a basis or a foundation for an executive to be re-established.

“I think there's been a lot of good work in that period, even though there's also been a lot of frustration because we had hoped to do it a lot quicker.”

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