Tánaiste insists EU are behind Ireland's Brexit stance, despite Polish minister's comments

Tánaiste insists EU are behind Ireland's Brexit stance, despite Polish minister's comments
Tánaiste Simon Coveney

Tánaiste Simon Coveney has insisted the entire EU remains completely behind Ireland's Brexit stance despite Poland's foreign minister breaking ranks and calling for the backstop to be limited to five years to drag a deal over the line.

Mr Coveney was backed by EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier and German foreign minister Heiko Maas after Polish minister Jacek Czaputowicz said the potential move should be considered to end the Brexit stand-off.

In the first cracks in the EU's solidarity with Ireland as Britain was forced to deny it will try to change the Good Friday agreement to save Brexit, Mr Czaputowicz said he would personally be in favour of the backstop being limited to five years to end the "game of chicken" between Britain and Ireland.

Warning a failure to at least consider the move could lead to an inevitable "frontal collision" which would damage Ireland as much as our nearest neighbour, Mr Czaputowicz said the temporary backstop being sought by Britain should be discussed.

Speaking to reporters in Brussels after meeting with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier, Tánaiste Simon Coveney said he has been reassured the EU remains fully committed to supporting Ireland on the backstop and wider Brexit saga.

Asked specifically about Mr Czaputowicz's suggestion, Mr Coveney said his counterpart was trying "to be helpful", before stressing the Polish minister's view does not reflect the EU's position, adding "in fact I know it doesn't".

"I don't think his intervention reflects EU thinking here, in fact I know it doesn't.

"If you listen to what other EU institutions are saying, and what the EU chief negotiator has been saying, they're all saying the same thing. We can't re-open the withdrawal agreement.

"I think if we attempt in the short time-frame that is open to us to re-negotiate the withdrawal agreement that as I say took two years to put together and is a series of compromises on all sides, I don't believe there's a willingness within the EU to do that," Mr Coveney said.

The Tánaiste's comments were backed by Mr Barnier, who told RTE "we agreed the backstop and we agreed on the original agreed along these 18 months... and I think it is the best possible deal now".

Mr Barnier also ruled out any prospect of a bilateral deal between Britain and Ireland, underlining the single position of the EU by saying "we are working as a 27, as a team, as a single team, and we are negotiating as one".

Similarly, German foreign minister Heiko Maas dismissed his Polish counterparts five year backstop suggestion, saying "I am completely with my Irish colleague [Mr Coveney], he has already said what he think of it, which is nothing".

However, the fact Poland has openly called for a backstop change is likely to heighten concerns of a crack in EU support for Ireland.

Meanwhile, Mr Coveney separately said he was assured by British foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt London will not try to change the Good Friday agreement to drag a Brexit deal over the line.

"I got confirmation from the British government this is not something they are going to pursue, and they are right not to pursue it," he said.

More on this topic

DUP ‘not seeking’ second referendumDUP ‘not seeking’ second referendum

UK will leave EU by October 31 despite Commons setback, insists Michael GoveUK will leave EU by October 31 despite Commons setback, insists Michael Gove

What could happen next in the Brexit saga?What could happen next in the Brexit saga?

'The House of Fools': UK Sunday papers react to latest Brexit delay'The House of Fools': UK Sunday papers react to latest Brexit delay