Brexit

Simon Coveney warns against assuming Brexit border breakthrough imminent

Tánaiste Simon Coveney has warned against assuming a Brexit border breakthrough is imminent. Picture by Niall Carson, Press Association
Press Association

THE Irish government has warned against assuming a breakthrough on the Brexit border row is imminent.

Foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney said that even if the British cabinet agrees exit plans in the coming days, the rest of the European Union must also back them.

Senior ministers were invited to review the text of the withdrawal agreement that has so far been secured in negotiations with Brussels, and are poised to meet as soon as a deal is ready to be signed off.

But Mr Coveney told the Irish Canada Business Association conference in Dublin: "I would urge caution that an imminent breakthrough is not necessarily to be taken for granted, not by a long shot.

"Repeatedly people seem to make the same mistake over and over again, assuming that if the British cabinet agrees something, well, then that's it then, everything is agreed.

"This is a negotiation and needs to be an agreement of course between the British government, but also with the European Union and the 27 countries that are represented by Michel Barnier and his negotiating team.

"So while of course we want progress to be made and we want it to be made as quickly as possible because time is moving on, I would urge caution that people don't get carried away on the back of rumour in the coming days."

Theresa May last month told MPs that 95% of the deal had been agreed, although the key sticking point of the "backstop" to prevent a hard border in Ireland remained unresolved.

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The prime minister's plan would see the whole UK effectively agree to remain in the customs union to help avoid a hard border if no other arrangement can be found.

Brexiteer MPs, including Environment Secretary Michael Gove, have called on Mrs May to release full legal advice setting out how the arrangement could be ended to avoid it becoming a permanent settlement.

Former Brexit secretary David Davis said the full government legal advice on Brexit must be published and insisted how the UK could exit from the customs union must be "pinned down" before MPs and peers vote on the deal.

Leaving without an agreement would mean some "hiccups in the first year", but the UK would have "all the rights and controls over our own destiny", he added.

Conservative Dominic Grieve has written to Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill calling for government documents explaining any final withdrawal agreement to the public to include a full comparison with the status quo as well as with a no deal scenario.

Tory Remainer Dominic Grieve said a border in the Irish Sea would be 'unacceptable'. Picture by Rick Findler/PA Wire

The former attorney general, who backs the People's Vote campaign for a fresh referendum, said: "It is of course entirely right that the Cabinet Office seeks to explain the full implications of any deal to the British public.

"However, it is of concern that the Cabinet Office seems to be under instruction to keep from the public and from Parliament any ability to make a comparison between the deal and the arrangements we already have inside the European Union.

"It is of the utmost importance that Parliament and the public can compare any arrangement the Prime Minister agrees, against the benefits of European Union membership and make clear the impact that the deal proposed would have on every single area of the economy, public services, finances, security and opportunity."

British prime minister Theresa May has invited ministers to review the text of a withdrawal agreement. Picture by Henry Nicholls/PA Wire

Michel Barnier, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, meanwhile, has warned of the need to fight against forces seeking to "demolish" the European project, saying: "There is now a Farage in every country."

Speaking to a conference of the centre-right European People's Party (EPP) in Finland, Mr Barnier said: "The European project is fragile, it is under threat, it is perishable and at the same time it is vital."

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