Coveney insists Ireland standing firm amid fresh fears over hard border

The Labour party says reports the Government is willing to soften its stance are deeply concerning

Coveney insists Ireland standing firm amid fresh fears over hard border

EU chief negotiator for Brexit Michel Barnier (right) with Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney at Government Buildings in Dublin in February 2017 | Image: Brian Lawless/PA Wire/PA Images

Updated 12:30

The Labour party has said reports that the Government is willing to drop its demand for a "bulletproof" guarantee that the UK's exit won't lead to a hard border in Ireland are deeply concerning.

The Irish Independent reports that negotiators are willing to soften the stance on the so-called backstop to prevent the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal.

The Taoiseach said the guarantee was “rock solid and cast iron” after the UK signed up to it in crunch talks last December.

The paper quotes senior Brexit sources as saying that they recognise that the UK will not be able to sign off on the backstop put forward by the EU - which would effectively keep the North in the single market and customs union after Britain leaves.

The sources said Ireland will face economic "catastrophe" if the UK leaves without securing a deal.

However, in a tweet this afternoon, the Tánaiste pushed back at the claims - insisting the "the EU and Ireland could not be any clearer: there will be no agreement without a backstop that guarantees no hard border and delivers on UK commitments" made in December and March.

Writing his own piece in the newspaper this morning, Simon Coveney said Ireland will never return to the "dark and divisive days of decades past."

Speaking to Newstalk this morning, Labour Party leader Brendan Howlin said the reports are very worrying.

“The modus operandi of the Government over every issue – you saw it this week in relation to cervical smear and the Scally Report – is to condition people in advance by spin,” he said.

“So, it is a worry that Government sources are spinning that they have to soften the position that was much vaunted last year of a bespoke back-stop for Ireland to ensure that there never could be a hard border on the island of Ireland.”

He called for a special EU Summit to be called this month so that "the issue of the Irish backstop could be taken out of the other issues and agreement made in relation to that."

“We could talk about the transition arrangement and finalise those at the normal EU Council that is scheduled for October,” he said.

Legally binding

In his op-ed, Minister Coveney said the talks must deliver a legally enforceable guarantee there will be no infrastructure, checks or controls on the border.

“The simple truth is we have a little over four weeks until the critical European Council meeting in October which remains the target for finalising a withdrawal agreement,” writes Minister Coveney.

“I am confident, however, that EU and UK negotiators are focused on the critical task at hand, which is agreeing a legally enforceable backstop for Northern Ireland that delivers on the UK commitments of last December and March and the guarantee of no physical infrastructure or related checks or controls.

“This is not a backstop any of us wish to ever use. Our shared hope is for a future relationship so close that the backstop is never needed.

“However, agreeing it now, as all sides are committed to doing, provides reassurance to everyone who has benefited from the peace process and the Good Friday Agreement that we are never going back to the dark and divisive days of decades past.”

Special Summit

It comes as EU leaders prepare to meet in Salzburg next week, with negotiators expected to insist that the back-stop be agreed by October.

Leaders may then call an Extraordinary Brexit Summit in November to finalise the details of the UKs future relationship with the EU.