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'I can't allow Ireland to be blamed here': Coveney says some UK politicians need reminder of Irish history

The Tánaiste said today it would be foolish to focus on any other solution to the border issue than the backstop.

Image: Leah Farrell/Rollingnews.ie

TÁNAISTE SIMON COVENEY has said that some legislators in Westminster “do need to remind themselves of why we’re talking about a backstop in the first place”, and the primary responsibility for the border issue now lies in London.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs was speaking today about the importance of the backstop which he said had become “the accepted solution” on the issue of the Irish border after long, protracted negotiations.

He said it would be foolish at this stage – with less than 100 days to go until Britain is due to leave the EU – to focus on alternatives “that are not easily found”, and that opponents of the backstop in Westminster have not put any forward because such proposals are “not credible”. 

The backstop is the main sticking point for Brexiteers in the deal struck by Theresa May’s government with the EU.  The backstop would ensure that Northern Ireland stays “aligned” to the regulations of the single market and the customs union if there is still no other solution that would avoid infrastructure along the Irish border.

To avoid a border, it means there would have to be the same or similar custom rules and regulations for products, food, animals, people and vehicles between the UK and the EU – or Northern Ireland and the EU.

Prime Minister May cancelled a vote on her Brexit deal last week because it was clear that she wouldn’t win the vote in the House of Commons, such is the opposition to her deal and its backstop. The vote is now due to be held next month.

Coveney said that given the UK government had reached an agreement with the EU, the focus should now be on making this compromise work.

“For us to be talking about and exploring other options not easily put together is not wise,” he said. 

Coveney was also questioned if Ireland’s relationship with the UK had become an “us vs them” style situation, given recent comments by the likes of Conservative MPs Priti Patel and Jacob Rees-Mogg. 

The Tánaiste said: “I’m not going to get into commenting on Jacob Rees Mogg or the comments he makes, apart from saying the Irish government from the very outset saw the dangers and continues to see the dangers of the potential corrosive effect of border infrastructure in terms of upsetting the normality.

I would say that all legislators in Westminster do need to remind themselves of why we’re talking about a backstop in the first place. The history between these two islands is deep, close and desperately tragic for a large part of that history. We are trying to find that solution. I’m not sure the focus in Westminster is where it should be in terms of why this issue is part of a negotiation in the first place.
To somehow blame Ireland for trying to protect the peace process is extraordinary… I can’t allow Ireland to be blamed here. We’re simply trying to protect our core national interests… in a way that’s very transparent and respectful. We haven’t responded to some of the provocation, and we’re not going to.

Coveney also defended Theresa May and praised her for being a strong advocate on the backstop, which he emphasised would only be temporary if it was ever used at all.

He said that the backstop was a fall back that would only be used if all else fails, and attempts to distract from its importance given the history of the island and the Good Friday Agreement wasn’t helpful.

He added: “Whether parliamentarians want to try gloss over that, and create a political narrative not based on reality… well that’s a matter for them.”

With reporting from Christina Finn, Gráinne Ní Aodha

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