Simon Coveney: NI 'too fragile and important' to be used as pawn in Brexit talks

Simon Coveney: NI 'too fragile and important' to be used as pawn in Brexit talks

Simon Coveney: "Brexit is for real this time for businesses and for traders. This time there is no extra time." Picture: Julien Behal

Northern Ireland is "too fragile and too important" to be used as a pawn by the UK Government in Brexit talks, Simon Coveney has warned.

Boris Johnson's government has confirmed it is willing to break international law on certain parts of the Withdrawal Agreement relating to Northern Ireland.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said the development is "gravely concerning" and he will speak with Mr Johnson this afternoon to raise concerns.

Mr Martin said "there was no heads up" from the UK Government on their Brexit proposals which would break international laws.

"Trust is fundamental to the conduct of any negotiations, we're extremely concerned about the unilateral nature of the British Government's action and decision, which has the capacity to undermine progress in the negotiations.

The timing of this initiative, the unilateral nature of this initiative has not built trust.

"It is important to say that meaningful negotiations can only proceed on the basis of mutual trust," Mr Martin said.

The UK Government will introduce the Internal Market Bill today which aims to ensure goods from Northern Ireland continue to have unfettered access to the UK market while making clear EU state aid rules – which will continue to apply in Northern Ireland – will not apply in the rest of the UK.

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis admitted in the House of Commons on Tuesday that new Brexit-related legislation would break international law.

Reacting, Mr Martin said: "My first reaction when I saw Brandon Lewis' comments yesterday was essentially that this is a new departure. 

"We haven't quite witnessed a member of any government go to a parliament and say we are going to break international law, so it's a new departure."

An Taoiseach Micheál Martin: "It is important to say that meaningful negotiations can only proceed on the basis of mutual trust." Picture: Moya Nolan.
An Taoiseach Micheál Martin: "It is important to say that meaningful negotiations can only proceed on the basis of mutual trust." Picture: Moya Nolan.

Foreign Affairs Minister Mr Coveney said there had been "no reach-out or back-channel discussions" ahead of the announcement and Governments around Europe learned of the development through the media.

"What's also different about this week is that normally if the British government or indeed if the EU are about to take an important decision or change the direction there would be heads up. 

I would get a call, the Taoiseach would get a call, the Tánaiste would get a call to say 'look I just want to explain what this is about'. None of that happened this week.

With the Brexit deadline looming, the Government this morning published an updated action plan.

Launching the plan, the Taoiseach said Brexit has "no positive outcome" and businesses must make sure they are now fully prepared.

“No matter what the outcome of the negotiations, anybody importing or exporting goods to or from Great Britain needs to prepare to deal with customs and regulatory checks," he said.

Mr Coveney said a "big national effort" is needed in the next three months to prepare for Brexit and warned: "Brexit is for real this time for businesses and for traders. This time there is no extra time."

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar announced a €9,000 grant for each worker hired or redeployed to enable businesses to build their capacity to manage Brexit customs changes.

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