Coveney in Brussels ahead of 'important week' for Brexit negotiations

"Sufficient progress" on the text of a withdrawal agreement is required by June

Coveney in Brussels ahead of 'important week' for Brexit negotiations

File photo of the Tanaiste Simon Coveney during a press conference with Germany's Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs, 12-04-2018. Image: Artur Widak/NurPhoto/Sipa USA

The Tánaiste Simon Coveney will meet with the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels this morning.

The pair will discuss the latest on Brexit negotiations and Mr Barnier's call for substantial progress on the Irish backstop by June's EU summit.

All sides have agreed on the need for a backstop arrangement to avoid a hard border in Ireland in case the UK leaves the EU without a deal.

Minster Coveney and Mr Barnier are expected to this week increase the pressure on the UK to translate the plan into a legally binding text.

Backstop

The Draft Withdrawal Agreement published by the EU at the end of the first phase of negotiations included an arrangement whereby if all else fails, a “common regulatory area” between the EU and UK will be established in the North.

Both the British Prime Minister Theresa May and chief negotiator David Davis have since distanced themselves from that agreement - claiming that while they had agreed to find a ‘backstop’ option, it will not be the one put forward by the EU.

The Tánaiste says the meeting will come ahead of a week of important negotiations – with “significant progress” required on a solution by next month.

“June is an important date,” he said.

“We need to be making progress in terms of getting to where we need to be by the end of October - which is to conclude a withdrawal treaty text that works for Ireland and works for the EU and, of course, for the UK as well.”

Technology

Over the weekend Minister Coveney dismissed the idea of using technological infrastructure to avoid a hard border.

Speaking on the BBC he said the UK government must honour the agreements that have already been reached.

"Let's not forget what's been agreed in these negotiations to date: because last December there was a clear agreement that the British prime minister signed up to that there would be no border infrastructure of any kind on the island of Ireland and no related checks or controls,” he said.

"That means we're not talking about cameras and scanning systems and drones here - it means we're talking about a political solution that allows for regulatory alignment in a way that prevents the need for border infrastructure".

"We expect that a clear commitment that was made by the British government in black and white in December, and repeated again in March, we are simply asking that that commitment be followed through on."

The DUP has reacted angrily to the comments accusing the Tánaiste of practicing "megaphone diplomacy."  

On Newstalk Breakfast this morning however, the Minister of State for European Affairs, Helen McEntee rejected the DUPs criticism - insisting the Government's position on Brexit has not and will not change.

File photo of the Tánaiste Simon Coveney and Minister of State for European Affairs Helen McEntee, 15-11-2017. Image: Sam Boal/RollingNews

“We need to see sufficient progress and we have seen in the past that movement has happened within a matter of days, never mind weeks,” she said.

“I think we still have time.

“There are important meetings yet to be had before the end of June so certainly there is time to see that sufficient progress that we need to allow us the time between then and October to reach a deal.”

Ms McEntee is in Brussels with Minister Coveney this morning. The pair will attend the EU General Affairs Council meeting on Brexit negotiations this afternoon.