Northern Ireland news

Simon Coveney says British government must stick to written commitments over Brexit backstop

Tánaiste Simon Coveney met British foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt in Luxembourg yesterday. Picture by Niall Carson, Press Association

TÁNAISTE Simon Coveney has insisted the British government must stick to written commitments it made over a Brexit backstop.

Speaking before he met British foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt in Luxembourg yesterday, the Fine Gael minister said the Irish government "want no more and no less than the follow through" of commitments made in December of last year and March.

A backstop aims to prevent a hard border, including customs posts along the frontier, in the event of the UK leaving the European Union without a formal exit deal.

The British government has proposed a time-limited backstop which would be due to end in 2021 - two years after Brexit.

The plan would see the UK match EU trade tariffs temporarily in order to avoid a hard border and allow businesses to adjust to any changes.

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But Mr Coveney, who attended a meeting of EU foreign ministers yesterday, said the British government's idea of a temporary backstop was a non-starter.

"We're not looking for anything new here. We're simply looking for the commitments made last December, and in particular last March, to be followed through on," he said.

"Last December it was agreed that in the absence of agreeing something better there would be a backstop in place, which essentially means that the UK would maintain full alignment with the rules of customs union and single market in areas necessary to protect north/ south cooperation, an all-island economy and the peace process.

"Then in March, the commitment was very clear that that backstop would be legally operable in terms of text in the Withdrawal Agreement. And it would be there unless and until something better was agreed."

SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood said Mrs May had "backed herself into a corner."

“In her dogmatic approach throughout these Brexit negotiations, Mrs May has backed herself into a corner.

“Her insistence that the UK as a whole must leave the customs union and single market has created the need for the backstop. Of course, she accepted this last December.

"If the Prime Minister continues to insist on a worst of all worlds Brexit for Britain, we will have to be protected. The EU has offered Northern Ireland a deal that will give us access to both the EU and British markets. The backstop is not ideal but it is our ultimate protection.

“It's time for the British government to stop pretending that they can do a deal that doesn't protect Northern Ireland."

However, Ulster Unionist MEP, Jim Nicholson, called on Mrs May to deliver on her words.


“I welcome the Prime Minister’s comments in the House of Commons today defending the Union and the constitutional integrity of our country. Indeed, it is not inconsistent with clear commitments she has already made, both before and since the last general election.


“However the reality is her words alone are not enough, especially at this late stage. We need to see the Prime Minister and her Government deliver on these commitments. Brussels needs to be clear that the United Kingdom will not accept any new customs or regulatory border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the country.”

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