Simon Coveney says Brexit facts 'have not changed' as he dismisses new Prime Minister's hopes of fresh deal
Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister has warned the next Prime Minister that they will not be able to “tear up” Theresa May’s Brexit deal and replace it.
Simon Coveney said a “change in personality” did not alter the “complexities” and “vulnerabilities” of issues such as ensuring an open border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
His intervention comes after both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt said that the controversial backstop solution had to be taken out of any agreement if it were to win the backing of the Commons.
Speaking on the Andrew Marr Show, Ireland's Tanaiste said: “I think it’s important to say very clearly, if respectfully, that the facts don’t change around Brexit.
“The complexity doesn’t change, the vulnerabilities around the island of Ireland don’t change and just because there’s a change in personality as British Prime Minister, doesn’t mean that the negotiation of the last three years and the solutions that were designed by the British Government as much as the EU aren’t still as relevant and important today as they were six weeks ago.”
He went on to warn against either candidate pursuing a no-deal Brexit on 31 October, adding: “I think if the approach of the new British Prime Minister is that they’re going to tear up the Withdrawal Agreement then I think we are in trouble.
“I think we’re in trouble quite frankly because that’s a little bit like saying 'either give me what I want or I’m going to burn the house down for everybody'.
“The EU, I think, has made it very clear that we want to engage with a new British Prime Minister, we want to avoid a no-deal Brexit, but the solutions that have been put in place to do that haven’t changed and just because a new British Prime Minister says they have to change doesn’t mean that the EU collectively will respond to that by changing the approach of the next three years."
Mr Coveney added that there would be a “fundamental unfairness” in offering a fresh agreement to Theresa May’s successor, when one had already been negotiated “in good faith” and with “compromise on all sides”.
He repeated that the backstop – which has proved a major sticking point in Mrs May’s three failed attempts to get her deal through the Commons – had to remain in any withdrawal agreement, although it could be replaced with alternative arrangements when they arose.
“This is about reassuring people in Northern Ireland that they are not going to go back to the friction and tensions of the past," he added.
“That is ultimately what this is about and so to ask Ireland to compromise on that core issue when we spent two and a half years working with the British Government and the EU to try and find a way to compromise on all sides to ensure that we don’t face that prospect is not a reasonable ask, because of a political challenge in Westminster to move away from that position.”
He also became the latest figure to dismiss a provision under World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules, known as GATT 24, which proponents, including Mr Johnson, say would allow free imports and exports to continue while a long-term trade agreement is thrashed out.
Mr Coveney said of the plan: “We just don’t think that’s a viable option at all, and by the way, it is not just the Irish government, I think the Brexit committee in the House of Commons has also made it very clear that that’s a non-starter.”