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Coveney: 'British government seems to be simply wiping the slate clean on the Irish issue'

The queen has approved the suspension of the parliament.

Simon Coveney has said the suspension of the UK parliament is a matter for them.
Simon Coveney has said the suspension of the UK parliament is a matter for them.
Image: Petr David Josek

Updated Aug 28th 2019, 3:50 PM

THE BRITISH GOVERNMENT “seems to be simply wiping the slate clean on the Irish issue in terms of the commitments that they’ve made” in the withdrawal agreement, Tánaiste Simon Coveney has said today. 

Speaking in Paris this afternoon, Coveney said “it is hard to tell” if the suspension of the UK parliament makes a no-deal Brexit more likely now.

“It’s hard to tell how the British political system will respond to that. And really, that’s a matter for parliament. And I’ve always been careful not to get involved in the parliamentary business of Westminster. They have a sovereign parliament, they have to make difficult decisions and choices,” he said.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson spoke to the queen this morning about suspending parliament from the second week in September until 14 October, less than two weeks before the UK is set to leave the European Union.

The move is said to give MPs almost no time to pass new laws that could prevent a no-deal Brexit on 31 October. 

In a letter to MPs this morning, Johnson said the current session needed to come to a close, and that he would schedule a Queen’s Speech – laying out the government’s plans – to launch new legislation in October.

While Coveney said the decision to suspend the parliament in London is a matter for the British parliament, he criticised their approach to matters, stating: 

We have a shared responsibility with the British government to protect the peace process to ensure that an all Ireland economy continues to function. And most importantly, that the commitments that took two years to negotiate to deal with the complexity of those issues on the island of Ireland are actually followed through on.
And unfortunately, what we’re hearing again today from the British Minister for Brexit is that Britain no longer seems to be committed to that approach, which we know solves the problem at hand, and instead wants everybody to move forward and agree on the basis of a promise that we will try to deal with the complexities of these issues at some point in the future.
And we can’t give up on something that we know works on the back of a promise, without any idea as to how it’s going to work.

fance-brexit Simon Coveney delivers a speech at a business meeting in Paris today. Source: KAMIL ZIHNIOGLU

Coveney met with the UK Secretary of State in Paris today, where they had a 45 minute meeting at the Irish Embassy.

A spokesperson stated that Coveney relayed the “consistent and long-held position of the EU and Ireland and spoke of the compromise between the UK and the EU that lead to the Withdrawal Agreement”.

Speaking to reporters, Coveney said all parties have worked for the last two years to ensure the deal is fair from all sides, ensuring the peace process on the island of Ireland is protected and at the same time preventing physical border infrastructure re-emerging.

“And now we have a British government who seems to be simply wiping the slate clean on the Irish issue in terms of the commitments that they’ve made. And we can never sign an agreement with that approach. And so we’ve always said, if there is to be a no-deal Brexit, it will be the choice of a British Prime Minister under British Parliament to allow that to happen.

“We want a sensible deal based on the negotiations that have taken place over the last three years Ireland is reasonable, and has always shown flexibility and a willingness to compromise. But we’re not going to compromise on a peace process that is fragile right now on the island of Ireland.”

Calling back the Dáil

Speaking earlier today, Finance and Public Expenditure Minister Paschal Donohoe said a request for the Dáil to return early from its summer break due to the ongoing Brexit situation will be “seriously considered”. 

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan said he will ask the Taoiseach to use his powers under Dáil Standing Order 26 to initiate an early recall of the House to discuss the evolving Brexit Crisis.
 
“As it stands the Dáil is due to return on the 17th of September, by which time the House of Commons will already have been prorogued with an increasing likelihood of a ‘no-deal Brexit’. 

“We cannot control the increasingly fraught developments in Westminster but we should have the Dáil in session to make sure that our response is debated in full,” he said
 
Ryan said returning earlier in September would be an important recognition of the scale of the crisis Ireland faces. 

When asked on RTÉ’s News at One about the prospect of politicians returning to Leinster House early, Donohoe said “we will consider seriously the request he [Ryan] has just made”. 

However, he added that whether there would be an early Dáil return would be a matter for the Taoiseach. 

Donohoe said the government is open to “any sort of engagement” the opposition parties want on the on-going Brexit issues, with the minister describing the Brexit situation as “fast-moving”.  

Donohoe would not be drawn on matters taking place in London, stating that he believes it is for others to comment as to what the intentions of Boris Johnson are.  

The minister said his focus is getting Ireland ready for the possibility of a no-deal Brexit, reiterating that it is a growing, material risk. 

Changes to the backstop ruled out

When asked if today’s developments in the UK will mean changes to the Irish backstop, the minister was clear, replying: “No.”

He said he is focused on the issues that extend beyond tomorrow, stating that avoiding instability on the island of Ireland is his priority. 

All the work that went into the withdrawal agreement negotiations was focused on that issue, which is why the principle of regulatory alignment is “critical” and “embedded” in the backstop, he said. 

The Tánaiste said today that if the UK needs furthers reassurances on the backstop, they are open to talks.

Let’s hear what they are. If they have alternative arrangements that can replace the backstop and do the same job as the backstop, Well, then let’s hear that too. We are happy to do that. But what we won’t do is do away with something that we know works for that to be replaced by something vague, that hasn’t been tested and doesn’t stand up to scrutiny and that is the approach of the current prime minister.

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