British position ‘more credible’ now, says Simon Coveney

The latest proposals from the British government have been described as a “step towards a much softer Brexit” by Tánaiste Simon Coveney.

Simon Coveney

The long-awaited white paper published by the British government has been welcomed by the Government and opposition parties, but they have warned that the border remains a redline issue and negotiations, which will continue through the summer, will be tough.

UK prime minister Theresa May’s proposals, which come after a tumultuous week for her government with the resignation of ministers David Davis and Boris Johnson, set out a number of commitments on the relationship Britain will have with the EU after Brexit.

The white paper commits to:

- A free trade area between the EU and UK for goods and agri produces with a “common rule book”;

- The creation of a separate UK services regime;

- The end of free movement of people with a new immigration system;

- The paper also states that future trade arrangements will mean that the backstop to avoid a hard border with Northern Ireland will never have to be utilised.

While Mr Coveney said there are some contradictions in the white paper that would concern EU countries, he said the British position on Brexit is now “more credible”. He said the EU will have issues that it needs to advance when talks begin again on Monday and cautioned that both sides will not get everything the want.

But certainly the ambition coming from the British Government now to try to have a future relationship that doesn’t require any border infrastructure between the UK and the EU in terms of trading in goods and agri-food, that ambition is one that needs to be developed now through a detailed negotiation as opposed to any more political positioning,” he said.

“I do not believe that Michel Barnier will, or will be allowed, to compromise the functioning of the single market or the functioning of a common customs union for everybody else in the EU. So that will be the real challenge now for the negotiation teams over the summer.”

Sinn Féin president Mary-Lou McDonald said the British “now have a position” which she described as “a good starting point”.

While she said there is “give and take” in every negotiation, she said there can be no softening of the red lines in relation to the Good Friday Agreement and the Irish border.

On the Irish question the red lines, the Ireland first position has been long established, and that’s not to cause a difficulty for Britain, that’s to protect essential interests of Ireland north and south,” said Ms McDonald.

Fianna Fáil spokesperson on Brexit Lisa Chambers says the publication of the white paper is a starting point for meaningful negotiations with the EU.

She said: “Fianna Fáil hopes that a no-deal scenario can be avoided, but the Government must be prepared for all eventualities. It is imperative that Ministers move on from talking about contingency planning to developing concrete strategies in place to cover all possible scenarios. “

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