UK must drop wishful thinking and keep its word on backstop: Coveney

Tánaiste Simon Coveney has raised the stakes in the Brexit brinkmanship, warning Ireland will insist the UK “keeps its word” on its earlier commitment to the backstop.

As part of a media offensive in the UK ahead of a difficult week for British Prime Minister Theresa May in the House of Commons, Mr Coveney said the current deadlock was not a “game of chicken”.

He ruled out any changes to the backstop and warned Europe would not ratify any withdrawal agreement that did not include a backstop, stating: “It’s as simple as that.”

The backstop is essentially a legal “insurance policy” that would prevent the re-emergence of a hard Border on the island of Ireland “unless and until” a future trading relationship is agreed.

Mrs May is facing a series of amendments in parliament this week, including one that would seek to scrap the backstop altogether and another which would require her government to ask the EU to delay Brexit if a deal isn’t agreed by the end of February.

The various amendments are designed to delay or influence the next steps in the Brexit process and are likely to force Mrs May to return to Europe with requests for concessions.

However, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker this weekend informed the embattled prime minister that the price of dropping the backstop would be a permanent customs union.

Speaking on ‘The Andrew Marr Show’ on the BBC, Mr Coveney hit out at opponents to the backstop who are offering “wishful thinking”.

“Nobody has come up with a pragmatic, sensible and legally sound way of avoiding border infrastructure re-emerging between the two jurisdictions on the island of Ireland.

“There is no magic solution here for this problem. If there was, it would have emerged by now. And that is why Ireland will insist on the United Kingdom keeping its word, both to Ireland and to the EU and to the people in Northern Ireland, in terms of protecting a fragile but hugely valuable peace process,” he said.

He denied the withdrawal agreement was “dead” but said it would be “wholly unreasonable” for the UK to expect the EU to strip out compromises Britain was willing to make but not EU compromises.

Pressed on comments by Leo Varadkar about the return of troops to the Border, Mr Coveney said the Taoiseach described a hard Border “to remind people what things were like 20 years ago”, adding: “We cannot and should not be proposing going back there”.

He did not answer when asked what uniform those troops would be wearing. In the wake of his comments, the Taoiseach’s aides were forced to clarify he was not referring to Irish personnel.

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