Belfast Telegraph

Coveney: Getting a Brexit deal not ‘mission impossible’

The Tanaiste met with Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith at Hillsborough Castle.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney speaks to media at Hillsborough Castle (Rebecca Black/PA)
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney speaks to media at Hillsborough Castle (Rebecca Black/PA)

By Rebecca Black and Aoife Moore, PA

Ireland’s deputy leader has insisted he still believes a deal can be reached between the UK and EU before the approaching Brexit deadline.

Simon Coveney denied it was “mission impossible” as he left a meeting with Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith at Hillsborough Castle.

Reiterating earlier comments from the Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, Mr Coveney said if an agreement was not possible this month, then Ireland would prefer an extension to a no-deal exit.

“I believe it is possible to get a deal this month,” he said.

“I believe that the British Prime Minister wants to get a deal this month. We will certainly work to that time frame if the British position evolves and we want to be helpful on that.

“I don’t think we should give up on that.

“If it’s not possible Ireland has always said we would prefer an extension to no deal.

“But that’s the Irish position but I don’t speak for lots of other EU member states.”

The Tanaiste went on: “This is not mission impossible. Let’s not forget we have a Withdrawal Agreement that we know works, we are trying to change that to accommodate a new approach from a British prime minister.

“I believe it is possible to change that but we have to make sure that while we change the approach the outcome has to be the same and the outcome has to be no border infrastructure between north and south on this island because we know the impact that that has, not just on trade but also on politics too. So that’s what we are trying to prevent.

“I believe it is possible to do that with goodwill and energy on all sides and I think you’ll get that next week.”

Mr Coveney left Hillsborough Castle as DUP leader Arlene Foster arrived for her party’s meeting with Julian Smith.

On Thursday, Mrs Foster accused the Irish Government of trying to “ride roughshod” over unionism, as she criticised Dublin’s rejection of the UK’s latest Brexit plan.

Mr Coveney said he would not be getting into a personalised row, and that Ireland’s position had not changed.

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(PA Graphics)

“I’m not getting into personalised commentary like that, the Irish government has been consistent for three years now.

“While we respect the decision of the UK to leave the EU, we also expect the British Government would take account of Irish interest, vulnerabilities and exposure and the context of those issue of any Brexit deal that is struck,” he said.

He said Boris Johnson’s proposals are a “step in the right direction, but there are problems with the proposal, and we have to be up front and honest about that, there’s no point pretending problems are being solved when they’re not, particularly when it comes to customs”.

“We don’t see how the proposal to have two different customs territories on the island of Ireland can avoid customs checks between those territories, we don’t see how that works and the EU has the same concern, so that element of the proposal needs to be developed further,” he added.

He also expressed concern over Mr Johnson’s suggestion that the currently defunct Northern Ireland Assembly be given a vote both on whether to opt into the all-island regulatory system in 2021, and whether to remain in it after an initial four-year period.

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Northern Ireland Secretary Julian Smith (David Young/PA)

The petition of concern essentially allows a bloc of Assembly Members from either the nationalist or the unionist community a veto on certain decisions, even if they represent a minority in the chamber.

“We have concerns in relation to any concept that suggests one party in Northern Ireland, regardless of who they are, can veto or prevent contingency measures taking effect through a vote in the NI executive,” he said.

“The idea that a minority of people could enforce a proposal on a majority of people indefinitely into the future in the context of the disruption of Brexit and mitigate against that isn’t something we can support.

Mr Coveney added that by listening to the people who spoke out yesterday against Mr Johnson’s plans, it would be clear that many unionists in Northern Ireland do not support the proposal around customs.

“Lots of unionists have difficulty with that, whether it’s the head of the Belfast Chamber of Commerce, the head of the Ulster Farmers’ Union, the CBI, virtually every business organisation in Northern Ireland, most of them headed by unionists, let’s be honest, don’t think that this is a comprehensive enough proposal to ensure we maintain borderless trade on this island.”

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