Simon Coveney believes Westminster may still back Brexit withdrawal agreement

Tánaiste Simon Coveney met DUP leader Arlene Foster at Stormont yesterday. Picture by PressEye/PA Wire

THE TÁNAISTE has insisted a crash Brexit is not inevitable and that those predicting Westminster's rejection of the withdrawal agreement next week should not take things for granted.

Simon Coveney said, while his government would not interfere in the British parliamentary process, Dublin wanted to offer assurances that the contentious border backstop was not what some Brexiteers were "misrepresenting" and "spinning" it as.

The minister for foreign affairs held meetings with a number of business and civic groups in Belfast yesterday before holding talks with politicians at Stormont.

In a speech at Queen's University on Wednesday night, Mr Coveney insisted the EU's backstop was not a trap to ensnare the UK or Northern Ireland.

He also stressed the insurance mechanism aimed at avoiding a hard border was not designed to bring about constitutional change.

The tánaiste said his government did not want to see the backstop invoked at all.

"The backstop is there to ensure that in no circumstances can there be a hard border - something that nobody wants," he said.

Speaking ahead of meeting Stormont's parties yesterday, Mr Coveney was asked whether a no deal was inevitable, given indications Mrs May will lose the vote on her agreement next week.

"Absolutely not," he replied.

Ian Knox cartoon 11/1/19: Tánaiste Simon Coveney said the DUP has turned down an initial offer to meet him during his visit to Belfast. The DUP counter that "no specific request" had been made. The visit goes ahead and is described as "open and robust, but respectful" 

"First of all, I don't think we should take anything for granted next week."

He said there was "not a majority of people in Westminster" who desired a no-deal Brexit and that the majority of MPs wanted to prevent such a scenario.

"What we haven't seen yet is a majority to support a mechanism that can actually achieve that and, in my view, the only person who actually has a deal that is in place and in writing, that can actually achieve that in a way that solves so many of the complex problems linked to Brexit, is the prime minister herself," he said.

Mr Coveney said EU leaders were happy to offer "clarification, reassurance and definition" around the backstop to help Mrs May get the deal over the line, but he again made clear the substantive terms of the agreement could not be renegotiated.

The Fine Gael deputy leader met DUP leader Arlene Foster at Stormont yesterday afternoon.

Speaking afterwards, Mrs Foster said her party wanted a "sensible exit" from the EU that worked for both the Republic and the north.

"The withdrawal agreement is not a fair deal and we can not support it," she said.

"It should be no more acceptable to build a new east-west border than it is to build a new north-south border."

The former first minister said the backstop was not needed.

"No one is going to build a hard border," she said.

"We will work with the government to reach a better deal for the United Kingdom but this will require more pragmatism from the European Union."

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