FOREIGN AFFAIRS MINISTER and Tánaiste Simon Coveney has given a cautious welcome to news that the UK has finally agreed a Brexit negotiating strategy after months of cabinet infighting.
Late on Thursday, Theresa May’s ministerial colleagues brought an end to a day of private negotiations at the prime minister’s private retreat, Chequers, with the finalisation of a 12-point ‘collective position’ for Brexit negotiations with the EU.
May has had a mighty struggle to reach this point, with the divisions in her cabinet between hardcore pro-Brexiteers and reluctant Leavers threatening to derail the process at every turn.
However, the common perception would now seem to be that Britain has agreed a framework to allow for a so-called ‘soft’ Brexit – that is, one in which trade deals can be agreed with the EU to make the process as economically painless as possible, and, for Ireland, maintain the lack of a physical border between the Republic and the North.
The UK is set to officially leave the EU at 11pm on 29 March 2019.
“The UK statement last night needs and deserves detailed consideration,” Coveney said today.
We are looking forward to the white paper which is expected to follow next week and which will hopefully provide additional detail for the EU task force, the Irish government and all our EU partners.
The minister maintained that Ireland’s position is “that we want to see the closest possible relationship between the EU and the UK”.
He said that Ireland must continue to push for the ‘backstop’ arrangement – one which guarantees a soft border on the island regardless of how exit negotiations proceed.
“What is needed now is for the negotiations to be intensified. Time is short. I am in regular contact with (chief EU Brexit negotiator) Michel Barnier and my officials are working day-in and day-out with the task force team he leads,” Coveney said.
“Our entire focus now is on ensuring a withdrawal agreement, including the Irish backstop, is agreed. This will give businesses across our islands certainty in terms of planning for a status-quo transition when the UK leaves the Union in March 2019,” he added.