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Coveney: We need to work together.. don't just listen to DUP, listen to all in Northern Ireland

Brexit is not a game of chicken, Irish Foreign Minster said

Simon Coveney interviewed by Andrew Marr on the BBC1 current affairs programme, The Andrew Marr Show. Pic BBC
Simon Coveney interviewed by Andrew Marr on the BBC1 current affairs programme, The Andrew Marr Show. Pic BBC
Jonathan Bell

By Jonathan Bell

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said it was important for all to work together in finding solutions to Brexit saying it was important to listen to all Northern Ireland and not just the DUP "because they happen to sit in Westminster".

In a wide-ranging interview on the BBC's Andrew Marr show, the Tanaiste ruled out binning the hated backstop of parliament voted it down on Tuesday but said Ireland would not stand in the way of delaying Article 50 - and postponing Brexit - if more time was what was needed.

"Brexit is not an Irish policy," he said "but it is causing huge problems on the island or Ireland. There is an obligation on people to actually have pragmatic solutions rather than wishful thinking."

He said Ireland "will insist" the UK keeps its word to the people of Northern Ireland and the way to overcome the obstacles was through the future relations talks during the transition period.

"The backstop is already a compromise. It is a series of compromises. It was designed around British red lines," he said.

"Ireland has the same position as the European Union now, I think, when we say that the backstop as part of the withdrawal agreement is part of a balanced package that isn't going to change."

However responding, the Health Secretary Matt Hancock said delaying Brexit would not resolve the issues. Although he said he "emphatically" did not want a no deal and the way to avoid that was by endorsing Theresa May's withdrawal agreement.

He said Theresa May had agreed to the backstop based on her own red lines. He said it was "entirely unreasonable" to take out all the compromises made by Britain while including those compromises made by the EU.

Speaking about the Taoiseach's comments on troops on the border in the event of a no deal. He said Mr Varadkar was reminding people of what the border once looked like.

"What I would ask people to think about is how far we have come in the last 20 years and what the peace agreement has done for relationships between our two island. Let's not go backwards and cause tension," He said.

"Let's not just listen to one political party's voice from Northern Ireland because they happen to sit in Westminster. Let's listen everybody in Northern Ireland is saying. What business is saying, farmers, unionist and nationalist.

"There is a strong view coming from Northern Ireland that says we have a withdrawal agreement which protects the peace process and good relations on the island of Ireland. Let's take that rather than risk a no deal Brexit."

Ireland will insist on the UK keeping its word.

On Tuesday parliament will again vote on Theresa May's deal with the EU. There have been more than a dozen amendments tabled including ensuring there can be no departure in a no deal, delaying Brexit and binning the backstop and looking for "alternative arrangements".

"There is no magic solution here for this problem," Mr Coveney continued.

"If there was it would have emerged by now and that is why Ireland will insist on the UK keeping its word to Ireland, the EU and the people of Northern Ireland in terms of protecting a fragile but hugely valuable peace process."

Asked if the Commons voted on finding alternative arrangements to the backstop, would the withdrawal agreement be "holy text" and untouchable the TD said that would be like asking Ireland to renege on its commitments and instead replace them with a hope something would be found.

Listen to what the people of Europe are saying.

He said the way to tackle the issues was in the future trade relations talks.

"That is the way I hope these negotiations will go rather than the British parliament deciding on something that may command a majority in Westminster but has no chance of getting agreement or ratification in the EU.

"Listen to what people are saying in Europe. This is not just about Britain's future. This is about how we work together in the future."

He added: "People keep talking about games of chicken and the UK position being against the Irish or the EU position. We are all trying to work together here.

"Britain and Ireland are two islands next door to each other, we have an extraordinary history at times a very tragic history. But we have to work out these things together and stop talking about games of chicken."

Mr Coveney said he did not believe the only reason for Theresa May's crushing defeat in the Commons earlier this month was down to the backstop alone.

"If you look at the withdrawal agreement it is actually not that controversial. It is about protecting citizens rights.. about protecting British citizens rights in the EU .. it's about a financial settlement.. it's about creating the time and space for a transition period.. for preparing for new realities.

"And its about protecting a peace process which I believe the Prime Minister is deeply committed to."

He added: "The problem with the argument is that nobody has come up with a pragmatic, sensible and legally sound way of avoiding border infrastructure reemerging between the two jurisdictions on the island of Ireland. And that is why it took two years to get the backstop agreed and that is why I believe the Prime Minister is correct when she defends it."

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