Wednesday, 13 March 2019
Ceisteanna ó Cheannairí - Leaders' Questions
Simon Coveney (Cork South Central, Fine Gael)
I thank the Deputy for those questions. As we have been throughout this process, we are very close to the European Union through the Commission, the Barnier task force and the other member states. Along with the Taoiseach and other Ministers, the Minister of State, Deputy Helen McEntee, and I have spent a lot of time building up an understanding among our colleagues and friends across the European Union of the exposure and vulnerability of the Irish economy to a no-deal Brexit or a negotiated Brexit with a bad outcome. That work is now paying off in that the solidarity is clear. There is no pressure on Ireland to change our approach to the withdrawal agreement, the Irish protocol in it or the backstop in all its detail. The pressure is in London. That is where the crisis is emanating from, and that is where we need to see solutions emerge. We want to help in that process. We have always said that. We have shown a willingness to be flexible and to take account of the political challenges facing Westminster, and the need for clarification and reassurance around issues about which it has concerns. The EU has worked with us on that, particularly in recent days, but it has not been enough. That is the reality.
The response from the EU today will be clear. We have gone as far as we can. It is now up to the British political system and the British Government to try to find a way of resolving the UK's own issues. The proposal that the UK Government published this morning to facilitate trade on the island of Ireland in the context of a no-deal Brexit makes it very clear:
A negotiated settlement is the only means of sustainably guaranteeing no hard border and protecting businesses in Northern Ireland. This is why we are, first and foremost, still committed to leaving the EU with a deal. In a no deal scenario, the UK government is committed to entering into discussions urgently with the European Commission and the Irish Government to jointly agree long-term measures to avoid a hard border.
In that context, it is important to mention the Commission's response today to that document. It says that the EU remains determined to avoid a hard border, that it will ensure the integrity of the single market and customs union in all circumstances, that it is convinced that since no other solutions have been identified, the backstop is currently the only one available to fully address the challenges of the land border and that it is studying these proposals. In other words, deal or no deal, the principles around the backstop and how it was put together will remain the focus of any negotiation between the Irish Government, the British Government and the European Commission. As I have always said, this will undoubtedly have to happen if a no-deal Brexit looks like it is becoming a likelihood rather than a possibility, which it still is today.
I will come back to Deputy Cullinane on one other issue on which I would like to respond.