Tánaiste says EU letter on backstop 'very clear'; DUP call for clarity over May comments

Tánaiste says EU letter on backstop 'very clear'; DUP call for clarity over May comments

Latest: Tánaiste Simon Coveney has praised a "very clear and strong" letter from EU leaders to the British Government on the Irish backstop.

The letter to British Prime Minister Theresa May from Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk offered "clarifications" to the UK's Withdrawal Agreement, stating that Brussels "does not wish to see the backstop enter into force" and confirming its "determination" to see it replaced.

In response to the letter, Mr Coveney said on Twitter: "Very clear and strong letter from @JunckerEU and @eucopresident offering clarity, support and a positive commitment to work with UK in the interests of both EU and UK through #Brexit."

Meanwhile, The DUP has demanded an explanation from the British Prime Minister after she warned that a no-deal Brexit could spark “changes to everyday life in Northern Ireland” that jeopardised the union.

Deputy leader Nigel Dodds said Theresa May needed to clarify what she meant when she spoke to factory workers in Stoke on Monday, to avoid the suggestion that she was engaging in “foolish talk”.

In her speech the Prime Minister sought to show how much better for the UK her Withdrawal Agreement was compared with a no-deal Brexit.

Just hours ahead of a meaningful vote on her Withdrawal Agreement, she said: “With no deal we would have: no implementation period, no security co-operation, no guarantees for UK citizens overseas, no certainty for businesses and workers here in Stoke and across the UK, and changes to everyday life in Northern Ireland that would put the future of our Union at risk.”

If this is nothing more than scaremongering, then the Prime Minister should cease from such foolish talk

This provoked uproar from Mr Dodds, whose party has played down the risks from a no-deal Brexit.

The DUP believes the Irish border backstop would undermine the constitutional integrity of the UK and bring a united Ireland a step closer by creating barriers between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

Both the EU and the British Government have been at pains to say that no hard border would return between Ulster and Ireland, a move which would breach the Good Friday Agreement.

Mr Dodds said: “The Prime Minister must explain this comment. What exactly would the Government be changing?

“If this is nothing more than scaremongering, then the Prime Minister should cease from such foolish talk.

“Indeed, the Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has said that the Republic of Ireland is not making preparations for a hard border even in the event of no deal being agreed.”

- Additional reporting by Press Association

Earlier: Coveney: Ireland must 'hold its nerve' on Brexit

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney says this week is going to be a really significant one for Brexit and that Ireland must "hold its nerve."

He told RTÉ’s Today with Sean O’Rourke, that the Irish Government needs to stay close to both the British government, “our neighbours”, and “our EU partners”.

Mr Coveney added that he hopes a letter from the European Union offering assurances on the backstop to the British government will provide reassurance and clarity.

The letter, which will be issued jointly by the presidents of the European Council and Commission, will insist that there can be no renegotiation of the backstop.

The backstop is a temporary measure that people should not feel threatened by, he said. If the vote is passed in the House of Commons tomorrow evening, the ratification process could conclude quite quickly, he added.

Mr Coveney said that he agreed with British Prime Minister Theresa May that "now is not the time to focus on plan B."

Contingency planning for a no-deal Brexit continues, he pointed out, but he hopes that they will not have to be used.

Mr Coveney also said that consumers can be confident that there will not be any shortages of drugs or specialised foodstuffs in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

He was responding to concerns expressed by senior health officials about post Brexit access to 45 key drugs, as well as foodstuffs for people with specialised diets and breast milk for premature infants.

The only breast milk bank supplying neonatal units in Northern Ireland and the Republic is in the South West Acute Hospital in Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh.

Mr Coveney said that the Minister for Health Simon Harris will bring a detailed memo to Cabinet this week about the stable supply of medicines.

“It gives me confidence that we can manage that. A lot of planning is going on with suppliers," he said.

He said that there could be changes to supply routes and that the authorisation process with regards to medicines will have to move to outside the UK.

There will also be a memo to Cabinet this week from the Department of Transport on shipping availability in the event of a no deal Brexit, he said. Shipping capacity might move away from using the UK as a land bridge.

Mr Coveney said that plans for the development of Dublin Port are well under way with the provision of an additional 13 inspection bays, parking spaces for 270 trucks along with 144 extra staff.

I am confident that we will have the physical infrastructure and staff in place to fulfil obligations.

He acknowledged that there is a human resources challenge, but that it has been broken down between three government departments.

Two further “very important” memos will be brought to Cabinet this week, he added. One in relation to the Common Travel Agreement and the other on emergency legislation “in case a no deal Brexit is foisted on us.” It will be an omnibus piece of legislation, he said.

The Government will be open to “good ideas” from the Opposition.

When asked about the possibility of a general election this year, the Tánaiste said that the Government is focused “on the job we have to do.”

The Government is facing a big challenge in Brexit, “that’s our focus for the next 12-15 months".

He said he did not expect a general election to be held until the first half of 2020.

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