Simon Coveney: Do not play politics with 'fragile' Northern Ireland in Brexit negotiations

 Simon Coveney has warned against 'playing politics' with Northern Ireland's peace process over Brexit.

Simon Coveney has warned against 'playing politics' with Northern Ireland's peace process over Brexit. 

The Republic of Ireland's Minister for Foreign Affairs said Northern Ireland "is too fragile and too important" to be used as a pawn in the broader Brexit negotiations.

He said: "I would caution anyone who is thinking about playing politics with Northern Ireland on Brexit."

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that trust is “fundamental” in the conduct of negotiations.

He said he is to speak to the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson later today to raise the Irish Government’s “strong concerns” about comments made in the House of Commons on Tuesday.

Earlier British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said breaking international law by overriding the Withdrawal Agreement is necessary to preserve peace in Northern Ireland if a trade deal with the EU is not brokered.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The decision we’ve made is to put the peace process first, first and foremost as our absolute top international obligation.

“We are also absolutely clear about if we don’t manage to achieve that (a deal), and I really hope that the Europeans will make the progress necessary in order to deliver it – it’s straightforward and available in my view – if not we absolutely have to choose and to govern is to choose and I choose peace in Northern Ireland.”

Yesterday, Secretary of State Brandon Lewis has said UK proposals linked to the Withdrawal Agreement will "break international law in a very specific and limited way".

There was an angry reaction yesterday after Downing Street said it will bring a new law that could override parts of the withdrawal treaty that Britain and the EU agreed last year.

The British government introduced the Internal Market Bill, which aims to ensure goods from Northern Ireland continue to have unfettered access to the UK market while making clear EU state aid rules - which will continue to apply in Northern Ireland - will not apply in the rest of the UK.

Read More: British government's legal head resigns 'over plans to override Brexit withdrawal deal'

Mr Hancock said he is “comfortable” with the fact the UK is willing to break international law on the EU withdrawal agreement.

When asked by Times Radio if he was comfortable with a minister saying the UK was willing to break international law, he replied: “I am.”

He continued: “The primary international obligation around this issue is to protect the peace process in Northern Ireland and I very much hope we conclude a deal before the end of the transition period.

“I think that we will and it is in everybody’s interest to do so as we did last time, but I also understand why ministers have chosen to prioritise at the absolute top of that the importance of protecting the peace process in Northern Ireland.”

Chairman of the Commons defence committee Tobias Ellwood told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “As negotiations go down to the wire let’s not lose sight of who we are and what we stand for.

“This is about the rule of law and our resolve and commitment to uphold it. To unilaterally ignore any treaty in its obligations which we’ve signed and submitted to the United Nations would actually go against everything we believe in.”

Alliance Party leader Naomi Long tweeted: "The Secretary of State for NI has just conceded in Parliament that Govt are about to break international law. His defence seems to be that 'it's only in a very limited way'.

"I'm not sure you can be a little bit illegal. It's a bit like being a little bit pregnant."

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