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Tánaiste urges British government to propose alternatives to backstop 'as quickly as possible'

Boris Johnson has vowed to ‘up the tempo’ on talks to remove the backstop ahead of Brexit.

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney (file photo)
Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney (file photo)
Image: Petr David Josek/PA Images

Updated Aug 30th 2019, 11:02 AM

TÁNAISTE SIMON COVENEY has called on the British government to recommend viable alternatives to the backstop to the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator as quickly as possible.

It follows a vow by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to “step up the tempo” in talks with the European Union to strike a new Brexit deal before the 31 October deadline.

In comments last night, Johnson said he was ready to “get a deal done” that would allow Britain to leave the EU on 31 October, but would continue to seek an alternative to the imposition of a backstop, which would prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland.

“While I have been encouraged with my discussions with EU leaders over recent weeks that there is a willingness to talk about alternatives to the anti-democratic backstop, it is now time for both sides to step up the tempo,” he said.

This morning, Coveney met with British foreign secretary Dominic Raab on the fringes of a meeting of all 28 EU foreign ministers.

A spokesman for the Tánaiste said that he reiterated Ireland’s position on the withdrawal agreement and said the red lines agreed between the EU and UK were not negotiable.

He also urged the British government to bring forward any viable alternatives to the backstop, which achieve the same goal of no hard border or related infrastructure on the island of Ireland, to EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier as quickly as possible.

Peace in Ireland

British negotiators are set to meet their EU counterparts twice a week throughout September in a bid to strike a new withdrawal agreement.

Lead Brexit negotiator David Frost will be joined in Brussels by different officials depending on the agenda for talks, including experts on customs, regulatory issues and trade policy, the government said.

“Discussions so far have shown that the two sides remain some distance apart on key issues but that both sides are willing to work hard to find a way through,” Downing Street said in a statement.

“The teams intend to run through a range of issues including the impasse around the backstop.

“The PM has been clear that there will be no new deal unless the withdrawal agreement is reopened and the backstop taken out,” it added.

However, the EU has warned that the bloc has a duty to protect peace in Ireland and will continue to do so, amid British plans to do away with the backstop.

Brussels insists that the backstop – which would keep the UK in EU customs arrangements – is essential to preserve the integrity of European trade and to avoid risking a return to sectarian violence.

“Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said that the UK will leave the EU on 31 October. In all circumstances, the EU will continue to protect the interests of its citizens and companies, as well as the conditions for peace and stability on the island of Ireland,” Barnier tweeted yesterday.

“It is our duty and our responsibility.”

The backstop is included in a divorce deal the EU agreed with Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, which the House of Commons has rejected three times.

“The increase in meetings and discussions is necessary if we are to have a chance of agreeing a deal for when we leave on October 31; no ifs, no buts,” Johnson said.

The prime minister’s comments came amid legal challenges to his move to suspend parliament between mid-September and October 14.

However, a Scottish judge ruled against granting an interim order – the Scottish equivalent of an injunction – to stop the move this morning, pending a full court hearing.

Yesterday, Lord Raymond Doherty heard a bid for an interim interdict – the Scottish legal equivalent of an injunction – that would halt Johnson’s move to suspend parliament between mid-September and 14 October.

Legal bids to halt the move have also been launched in London and Belfast.

With reporting from - © AFP 2019 and Christina Finn.

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