There is “concern” within the Irish Government that a wounded Boris Johnson may take a tougher line on Brexit, Simon Coveney has said.
The British prime minister managed to hang on to his leadership of the Conservative Party last night, winning a secret vote of no confidence by 59%, however reports indicate that his position as PM remains unsafe amid ongoing unhappiness among his backbenchers.
Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney, while reluctant to comment on “the internal affairs of the Conservative Party in the UK,” said that "if those divisions within the Conservative Party impact on Ireland, because the prime minister or the British government decide in order to maintain support within the party, that they have to take a tougher line on Brexit, or around the Northern Ireland protocol, well then obviously divisions in the Conservative Party and in the British government impact on Ireland."
“And of course, that's where where we have a concern.”
Mr Coveney said whoever is the British prime minister, Ireland will work with them but what he doesn't want to see is Ireland to be part of a strategy to maintain support within the Conservative Party in the context of hardening the position of the Northern Ireland protocol.
“Ripping up international treaty obligations to do this, because that has a significant knock-on effect on Ireland, north and south, and we've already seen the polarising impact that divisions around the Northern Ireland protocol has had in Northern Ireland,” he said.
“The Irish Government's position is very clear on this. We believe we can settle these issues, we can address to a large extent the concerns that have been expressed by the Unionist community in Northern Ireland by implementing the protocol with a lot of flexibility and pragmatism, and by doing that, settling issues that have been causing divisions for far too long in Northern Ireland politics. But in order to do that, we need a partner. The EU needs a partner.”
Mr Coveney said that so far the British government has not shown the seriousness to address those issues and instead is threatening to publish legislation this week "which would effectively be using British domestic law to breach international law by setting aside the elements of their treaty obligations, and that would be a big mistake.
“And I certainly hope that's not the price of the British prime minister maintaining a majority support within his own party.”
Mr Coveney said Ireland and the EU are not willing to essentially set aside the Withdrawal Treaty and the protocol and start again.
Mr Coveney also said that a recent poll, which found that three quarters of unionists support the DUP staying out of Stormont until the protocol issue is sorted, does not represent the majority of people in Northern Ireland.
“The majority of people in Northern Ireland who voted in the recent assembly elections voted for parties that support the protocol," Mr Coveney said.
"That's not to say that we shouldn't of course, try to accommodate a large minority in Northern Ireland who has a real problem with the protocol and how it's supposed to be implemented.
"We need to respond to this, but, we can't have a situation where one party decides then holds everybody else to ransom.”