The personalities may change but the complex issues linked to Brexit and Northern Ireland remain, the Tánaiste said today in the wake of British Prime Minister Theresa May’s resignation announcement.
And while the odds are on Boris Johnson to become the next prime minister, Simon Coveney said the Irish government will work with whoever is chosen as Mrs May's successor to protect Ireland’s interests and links with Britain.
“Our job is to work with whoever is British prime minister but one thing I will say very clearly - while the personalities may change, the issues won’t. Brexit remains complex and difficult,” Simon Coveney said after casting his vote in the European and local elections in Carrigaline, Co Cork this morning.
“Ireland will remain vulnerable and exposed to a bad deal and my job is to protect Irish interests, to protect our relationship, to protect the peace process, north and south and to protect our place in the Customs Union and the single market.
“All of those things have been there from the start. They are not going to go away just because there is a different leader with a different turn of phrase.”
Mr Coveney said Mrs May’s departure has been coming for several weeks.
“She’s had a very, very difficult few months as prime minister,” he said.
“I believe Theresa May is a decent person. She is trying to do what’s best for her country, as she sees it, and she also recognises the compromises that are needed to agree a deal with the European Union, and within that, has seen the need to try and accommodate Irish concerns, which are important.
“But she simply hasn’t been able to create consensus within her own party or across parties in Westminster. She is dealing with a very, very divided party."
He said the Conservative Party leadership battle may not take as long as some have predicted, suggesting they will be anxious to have a new leader in place for the autumn.
“My job is to protect Ireland through all of this, to protect the Irish British relationship through all of this, and to make sure that Ireland’s solidarity and support across the European Union remains firm, so that we hold our position, which is a fair and reasonable position, that involves compromise all round so that we protect Irish interests in the autumn, in the context of the Brexit debate,” he said.
“This is difficult and it involves a lot of uncertainty and that’s why we are, in the background, all the time, planning for the worst, just in case Britain decides to crash out, or crashes out by default.
“That will be difficult for Ireland to manage but we will have a contingency plan which would be very comprehensive if it’s needed.”
He also accepted that the political uncertainty created by Mrs May’s departure will create difficulties for ongoing talks aimed at restoring the Northern Ireland executive and assembly.
“It’s a matter for the DUP and Conservative Party whether or not they want to talk about, or work on an extension of their confidence and supply agreement,” he said.
“But my job is to work with all parties in Northern Ireland to try and find a basis for agreement so that after two-and-a-half years of no government, they can have a functioning Stormont again.
“The plan was to try and conclude these negotiations successfully in or around the middle of June.
“With a Conservative Party leader stepping down and effectively acting as a caretaker prime minister while a new leadership contest concludes, that’s obviously right in the middle of that period, and so if parties choose to use that as an excuse not to do a deal, well then that’s going to make it very difficult for everybody.
“I would hope that parties in Northern Ireland will decide to grasp this opportunity themselves and to work together with the British government and Irish government despite all of the uncertainty and politics in Westminster and make this process work.”