Backstop needed to give reassurance on border, insists Simon Coveney

The Brexit backstop is not about the UK but is about ensuring no border infrastructure re-emerges on the island of Ireland under any circumstances, Ireland’s deputy premier has said.

Simon Coveney also said any reassurances being sought by British Prime Minister Theresa May could not be allowed to undermine the purpose of the backstop.

Mr Coveney made the comments during Leaders’ Questions in the Irish parliament on Thursday.

“What is being looked at now seriously is how a political declaration can be put together, that is real, that provides reassurance, for many in Westminster who need it, that the backstop represents no threat to them, no threat to the UK and instead actually is about providing reassurance on the island of Ireland,” Mr Coveney said.

“That we can reassure people that under no circumstances in the future as a result of Brexit will there be border infrastructure re-emerging between the two jurisdictions on this island.”

He said contingency planning “for all eventualities” is continuing and preparations to date have included sectoral seminars on financial services, pharmaceuticals, on citizens and social security, intellectual property and air transportation.

“Let me reassure the public, this is part of a process of preparation that the Irish Government in partnership with other countries and the European Commission are undertaking as well as the preparation that we’re putting in place,” he said.

But Fianna Fail TD Dara Calleary described the Government’s preparedness as “pathetic”.

He said: “That’s just pathetic. That’s the Andrex puppy response. It’s soft and fluffy but nothing to do with what you’re actually supposed to be doing here.

“Sectoral seminars, at the end of the day, will not bring it home to people the impact on their lives.

“Will you wake up and actually start engaging with people the way previous governments engaged with people around the euro changeover, around Y2K, that people had an understanding and had a capacity to get ready to their own daily lives and in their own businesses for the challenges ahead?”

The Tanaiste and Foreign Affairs Minister rejected Mr Calleary’s criticism and said he was surprised by his response.

“It clearly showed that you don’t know what you’re talking about,” Mr Coveney said.

He added that the Government would be publishing a document next week on contingencies following a stakeholders meeting.

Mr Calleary said Ireland still risks being the “meat in the Brexit sandwich”, despite being backed up by the EU.

“We’ve to continue to work to ensure our backstop is upheld and we’ve to continue to ensure we avoid that disastrous hard border,” he continued.

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