Tánaiste Simon Coveney has said there are no changes to the text of the withdrawal agreement or the Irish protocol in the deal agreed between British prime minister Theresa May and EU President Jean Claude Juncker. He said it has never been the goal of the EU, or of Ireland for that matter, to trap the UK in a backstop indefinitely.
“This has never been the case and it is still not the case. The reason we were happy to support the wording last night is to try to provide more reassurance in a very real way by putting a legal obligation on the EU to put processes in place that are convincing,” he said.
Mr Coveney, speaking in the Dáil during leaders’ questions, said Ireland will not be the obstacle to granting more time, should it be necessary, and if there is a plan to try to finalise arrangements during that period.
“What is being presented to Westminster this evening is different from the last meaningful vote. That being said, from an Irish perspective the text and content of the withdrawal agreement have not changed. What has changed is the extra language which commits the EU and the UK in a legal document to clear procedures ensuring they work together to try to avoid using the backstop and to ensure that it is temporary if it is ever required,” he said. Mr Coveney said in a no-deal scenario everybody loses.
It would be hugely damaging to the United Kingdom on many levels but also it would be hugely challenging for Ireland, he said.
“It is clear from the text agreed last night that the withdrawal agreement itself is not being changed. That is understood. There is a new legal instrument which requires of both the UK and the EU a series of processes that reassure everybody that there is good faith on both sides to work towards preventing the use of the backstop in the first place or, if it is ever triggered, that it is temporary."
On the temporary nature of the backstop, he said it is an insurance mechanism nobody wants to use but if it is ever used both sides will use their best endeavours to ensure it is temporary. Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said the incoherence of British politics has exacerbated the situation.
“It is important to point out, however, that a no-deal Brexit would be devastating for the United Kingdom, for Ireland and for the European Union. I am sure the Tánaiste will agree. It must be avoided. Its impact on livelihoods and businesses, particularly the agrifood industry, would be very damaging. That is particularly the case given the crisis in our beef industry. A no-deal Brexit, if it happened, would essentially wipe out that industry. A no-deal Brexit would also represent a monumental failure of politics on all sides. That is why it was important to compromise and agree to some changes."
Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin said it is certain we will not have a comprehensive trade agreement by the end of next year. Even by the maximum end date of the end of 2022, it is quite likely that a future relationship agreement will not have been concluded and that the backstop will legally have to be triggered.