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Coveney on Brexit deadlock: 'We simply haven’t seen any written proposals from the UK to date'

It’s being reported this evening that the UK side are refusing to submit a written document in the ongoing talks.

TÁNAISTE SIMON COVENEY said today that he had yet to see any written proposals from the UK on how to end the ongoing Brexit deadlock. 

It comes amid a continuing stand-off between London and the EU over a withdrawal deal. 

According to reports in the UK this evening, Boris Johnson’s negotiators have so far only presented the EU with a draft of the withdrawal agreement with the backstop scrubbed out. 

Quoting UK government sources, the Guardian reports that the British prime minister’s team are refusing to submit a written document for fear it will be rejected or publicly dismissed. It’s believed they plan to wait until closer to next month’s EU summit to present a plan. 

Speaking to reporters at Government Buildings today Coveney said: 

We await written proposals from the UK side. We simply haven’t seen any written proposals to date.

Coveney said he had met with a number of British ministers to date to discuss the ongoing impasse, including a dinner last night with Northern Secretary Julian Smith which lasted “two or three hours”. 

“So of course there are conversations as you would expect, exploring concepts, what might work, what won’t work,” Coveney said. 

“Throughout all of those conversations I think I have an obligation to be both truthful and consistent. 

“There is a reason why the backstop took so long to negotiate, design and agree. The British team were very much part of that and so if the current position, which it is, from the UK side is that the backstop needs to be removed from the withdrawal agreement, well then it is a perfectly reasonable request by us to say, well, that creates huge problems, how are you going to solve them and what are you going to replace the backstop with that can do the same job?

That is my consistent message to all British ministers. Just because Boris Johnson says the backstop needs to go, doesn’t mean that everybody else will respond positively to that because we know the consequences for removing the backstop are significant and they pose huge challenges for Ireland North and South. 
So there is an obligation on the party that is looking for change to come up with solutions that can deal with the consequences of what they’re asking for.

Coveney said that in the event of a no-deal exit on 31 October there would need to be checks somewhere – but that he didn’t see them being near the border. 

He said any checks that were put in place would be temporary and that he hoped to be in a position to give detail on the plans “a few weeks before the possibility of no-deal”. 

Brexit was also the focus of a panel discussion at the National Ploughing Championships today, where Minister of State for Europe Helen McEntee said that the Irish government had had a “good meeting” with Johnson last week. 

She said the UK hadn’t produced an alternative to the backstop “yet again”.

“The UK are still not looking like they’ll bring anything new forward,” McEntee said. 

McEntee said the Irish government had been working with French, Belgian and Dutch authorities to help continue the flow of trade after Brexit.

Still talking 

Elsewhere, Johnson spoke by phone to German chancellor Angela Merkel – but there was no indication of any imminent breakthrough in the conversation. 

According to a readout of the call from Downing Street, Johnson “reiterated that the UK and the EU have agreed to accelerate efforts to reach a deal without the backstop which the UK Parliament could support, and that we would work with energy and determination to achieve this ahead of Brexit on the 31 October”.

Merkel’s spokesman said the two leaders “agreed to continue the exchange on the sidelines of UN General Assembly next week”. 

The phonecall took place as the British government and its opponents faced off in the Supreme Court in London in a hearing that will determine whether the prime minister broke the law by proroguing parliament earlier this month. 

brexit Arriving at court today activist Gina Miller said she was hopeful of overturning the suspension of Parliament. Source: Victoria Jones

Government lawyer Richard Keen said judges in Scotland’s highest civil court had last week “nakedly entered the political arena” by ruling on the matter.

Lawyer David Pannick, who represents one of the campaigners challenging the government, told 11 Supreme Court judges that Johnson had improperly suspended the legislature “to silence Parliament … because he sees Parliament as an obstacle to the furtherance of his political aims”.

Johnson continues to insist the suspension is routine, and will allow his government to launch its domestic agenda with a new session of Parliament next month.

The Supreme Court is being asked to decide who was right, in a case scheduled to last up to three days. It is considering two questions: Is this a matter for the courts; and, if so, did the government break the law?

Elsewhere in the UK today Liberal Democrats leader Jo Swinson told her first party conference as leader that she couldn’t wait to take on Johnson, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and the Brexit party’s Nigel Farage in an election. 

A Liberal Democrat government, she insisted, would stop Brexit on “day one”. The Lib Dems were on 16% support in an opinion poll published at the weekend – trailing the Conservatives (37%) and Labour (25%) but ahead of the Brexit party (13%).

- With reporting from Christina Finn and Gráinne Ní Aodha. Additional reporting from AFP, Associated Press

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Daragh Brophy

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