Ireland will not be ‘steamrolled’ on border backstop – Coveney

Ireland will not be “steamrolled” into giving ground on the border backstop, the country’s deputy premier has said.

Simon Coveney also rejected any suggestion Ireland was to blame for the Brexit deadlock, insisting responsibility lay in London.

His comments came amid efforts by the UK Government to gain concessions from the EU on the contentious backstop mechanism.

Mr Coveney outlined Ireland’s position as he met with UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt on the fringes of a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday.

Afterwards, he again made clear that the backstop as agreed in the Withdrawal Agreement could not be changed.

“There is a deal on the table. The British Government signed up to it. Jeremy Hunt was part of the that government. They haven’t been able to sell that to their own parliament,” he told RTE.

“And I accept that has created a lot of uncertainty, but it is certainly not Ireland’s fault.

“The responsibility to resolve this problem in terms of the way forward needs to lie where the problem is, which is in London not Dublin.

“We would be very foolish if we allowed the onus to solve that problem to switch away from Westminster to Dublin. We have been consistent, we have been fair, we have negotiated as part of an EU team with the British Government in good faith and we will continue to do that, but we will not be steamrolled in this process.”

Under the terms of the withdrawal treaty, the backstop would come into effect if a wider trade deal between the UK and EU fails to materialise at the end of the Brexit transition period.

It would ensure a free-flowing Irish border by tying the UK to the customs union while, in addition, Northern Ireland alone would continue to adhere to EU single market regulations on goods, meaning the region would operate under a different legal framework to Great Britain.

The backstop is the primary reason MPs voted down the withdrawal deal at Westminster.

Mr Coveney said any attempt to change the backstop with “keyhole surgery”, by either adding an expiry date or handing the UK the ability to withdraw unilaterally, would continue to be opposed by Europe.