DUP does not speak for Northern Ireland on Brexit - Coveney

The Tánaiste has again warned that the backstop cannot be time limited

DUP does not speak for Northern Ireland on Brexit - Coveney

File photo of the Tánaiste Simon Coveney, 22-03-2018. Image: Leon Farrell/RollingNews

The Tánaiste has moved to remind the public that the Democratic Unionist Party does not speak for Northern Ireland.

In an interview with Sky News this evening, Simon Coveney, noted that there was an “imbalance” being created in commentary around the DUP’s “blood red lines” on Brexit.

DUP leader Arlene Foster has warned that her party will not accept any deal that sees new regulatory differences between Northern Ireland and Britain.

The party – which is keeping the minority Conservative Government in poser under a confidence and supply arrangement - has threatened to pull the plug if it does not get its way in the talks.

Minority view

Minister Coveney said he remains confident a deal can be secured – and noted that the DUP only "represents a minority of people in Northern Ireland."

"The majority voted to stay in [the EU]," he said. "Though we have to respect the broad decision of the UK - and we do.

"The majority of people in Northern Ireland are looking for something quite different from what the DUP is looking for - and yet the DUP is given this platform as if it speaks for Northern Ireland."

He noted that chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier met with politicians across the political divide in Northern Ireland earlier this week – the majority of whom support a “sensible backstop.”

Withdrawal Agreement

He said he remains confident a deal can be secured – but played down expectations there will be any breakthrough in the coming days.

"Whether that can happen as early next week I'm not sure, people need to be cautious on that," he said.

Minister Coveney also warned once again that the EU will not accept any time limit on the backstop solution for avoiding a return to a hard border in Ireland.

Time limit

He was speaking after the UK Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab again raised the prospect of a time-limited deal – something the EU has noted would defeat its very purpose.

Speaking in London, Mr Raab said the backstop remains the "one real sticking point" in the withdrawal negotiations.

"[The backstop] would have to be finite,” he said. “It would have to be short and it would have to be, I think, time-limited in order for it to be supported here.”

"What we cannot do is see the UK locked in, via the backdoor, to a customs union arrangement which would leave us in indefinite limbo.

“That would not be leaving the EU."

"Unless and until"

Minister Coveney said that we can’t be left in a situation whereby the backstop insurance mechanism would be"done away with" if the issues regarding the border are not resolved in the coming years.

"We can't accept a time limit," he said. “But we can accept it will only be there unless and until something better is agreed in the future - which is what everyone wants.”

Asked how long he envisioned the backstop to remain in place he said: “With respect, that's up to the British government who need to decide what they want for the future.”

He noted that the upcoming talks will not be focusing on Theresa May’s Chequers proposals or the UKs future relationship with the EU.

“We're voting on the two documents,” he said.

“A withdrawal agreement that needs to be able to stand up to legal scrutiny and court challenge; the second document is a political declaration on parameters.

“Nobody thinks we can sign off on all the detail [of a future trade agreement] by the end of the year.”

"Absolutely necessary"

Following his meetings with Northern Irish politicians this week, chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier said he had been focusing on trying to “explain and de-dramatise the backstop.”

He said the EUs proposals were limited to “what is absolutely necessary to avoid a hard border.”

Setting out the checks that will be necessary on goods travelling from Britain to Northern Ireland following the UKs withdrawal, he noted that the plan offers the North "benefits that no other third country enjoys."

He said he understands that the checks are "politically sensitive" but noted that the plan is simply a “safety net” that will remain in force until a future trading relationship is agreed.