Coveney warns UK border proposals just "a starting point" in Brexit talks

The Tánaiste says he is not sure the EU will accept the British Prime Minister's proposals

Coveney warns UK border proposals just "a starting point" in Brexit talks

Tánaiste Simon Coveney speaks with European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, 27-02-2018. Image: AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert

The Tánaiste has said he is “not sure” that the EU will be able to support the British Prime Minister’s plan for avoiding a hard border in Ireland.

In what was billed as a ‘landmark’ Brexit speech on Friday, Theresa May backed a mixture of “new technology” and close ties with the EU as a solution to the border issue.

The plan would involve no new restrictions being placed on the 80% of cross-border trade carried out by small businesses in Ireland, north and south.

Appearing on the BBC this morning, The Tánaiste Simon Coveney is “not sure” the technological solution would “actually protect the integrity of the EU single market.”

He noted that the proposals are “essentially a starting point in negotiations as opposed to an end point” and said Ireland would work with both the UK and the EU to find a solution.

He welcomed Mrs May’s continued commitment to the Good Friday Agreement and the peace process:

“We certainly welcome the fact that she was very definitive in terms of her commitment to the Good Friday Agreement which of course is the foundation stone for the peace process,” he said.

“But beyond that, she hasn’t really gone into any more detail than we have already heard in terms of how she is going to solve the problem of maintaining a largely invisible border.”

Negotiations

He said he is “not sure” the technological solution would “actually protect the integrity of the EU single market.”

He noted that the proposals are “essentially a starting point in negotiations as opposed to an end point” and said Ireland would work with both the UK and the EU to find a solution.

Minister Coveney again warned that if no agreement can be reached the ‘back-stop’ plan requiring full British alignment with customs union and single market would have to come into force.

He said Mrs May had "committed clearly" to this in December.

Agreement

The British Prime Minister has rejected the draft Brexit agreement published by the European Commission following the completion of the first phase of negotiations.

She claimed that agreement threatened the "constitutional integrity" of the UK, and insisted that “no UK Prime Minister could ever agree to it.”

In her speech she said the draft agreement was "unacceptable" but admitted the UK had a responsibility to help maintain a soft border.

Peace process

Minister Coveney warned that the British Government has a significant responsibility to uphold the Good Friday Agreement and what is a “very complex and very fragile peace process.”

"Brexit was not the choice of the Irish people; it was the choice of the British people. So there is responsibility on Britain to ensure that the impact of Brexit on its neighbours is also managed."

“Ireland has said from the outset here, the result of Brexit for us in terms of what we want is the closest possible relationship between Ireland the UK and between the EU and the UK.

“But we also need to be realistic; when a country leaves the EU and states that they are going to leave the single market and customs union as well, you can’t expect to hold on to all the benefits of EU membership.

“I think the PM speech did strike a note of realism and I think from that point of view it is welcome.”

Mrs May said she was pleased that the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar had agreed to form three-way talks to look at her proposals.