Tánaiste: Brexit problem must be solved in London, not Dublin

The Government would be “very foolish” if it allows the onus for a solution to Brexit to switch from London to Dublin, Tánaiste Simon Coveney says.

Speaking in Brussels after a meeting with the EU's Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, Mr Coveney said Ireland will not be "steamrolled" into giving ground on the border backstop.

He again made clear that the backstop as agreed in the Withdrawal Agreement can not be changed, given it has the approval of 28 governments: "There is a deal on the table. The British Government signed up to it. Jeremy Hunt was part of that government. They haven't been able to sell that to their own parliament."

"And I accept that has created a lot of uncertainty, but it is certainly not Ireland's fault.

The responsibility to resolve this problem in terms of the way forward needs to lie where the problem is, which is in London, not Dublin.

"We would be very foolish if we allowed the onus to solve that problem to switch away from Westminster to Dublin. We have been consistent, we have been fair, we have negotiated as part of an EU team with the British Government in good faith and we will continue to do that, but we will not be steamrolled in this process," Mr Coveney said.

Mr Coveney also rejected any suggestion that Ireland is to blame for the Brexit deadlock, insisting that responsibility lies in London.

His comments came amid efforts by the British Government to gain concessions from the EU on the contentious backstop mechanism.

Mr Coveney outlined Ireland's position as he met with British Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, on the fringes of a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday.

Under the terms of the withdrawal treaty, the backstop would come into effect if a wider trade deal between Britain and EU fails to materialise at the end of the Brexit transition period.

It would ensure a free-flowing Irish border by tying Britain to the customs union while, in addition, Northern Ireland alone would continue to adhere to EU single market regulations on goods, meaning the region would operate under a different legal framework to Great Britain.

The backstop is the primary reason MPs voted down the withdrawal deal at Westminster.

Mr Coveney said any attempt to change the backstop with "keyhole surgery," by either adding an expiry date or handing Britain the ability to withdraw unilaterally, would continue to be opposed by Europe.

The Tánaiste said the review mechanism that already exists in the Withdrawal Agreement would test alternative arrangements before they are introduced: "Unfortunately what some in London seem to be advocating for now is that we would talk about alternative arrangements and replace the backstop with those alternative arrangements without them standing up to scrutiny. That is a very unreasonable ask."

Mr Coveney held a one-hour meeting with the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier and his team earlier this morning.

He said: "Their position is the same as ours: that the Withdrawal Agreement cannot be reopened, that of course, people want to find ways of giving clarity and reassurance to the British prime minister, to help her sell what is a sensible and pragmatic series of compromises that makes the Irish protocol and the Withdrawal Agreement. But certainly there is no appetite to reopen that agreement and that negotiation again."

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