Irish foreign minister warns against optimism over ‘difficult’ Brexit talks

Ireland’s foreign minister has warned against optimism over difficult Brexit negotiations between Brussels and London.

Speaking on the Independent.ie’s Floating Voter podcast, Simon Coveney said three areas are currently being examined by the EU and UK.

They are a commitment from both sides on how to explore alternative arrangements, potential changes to the future relationship declaration, and assurances that the intention of the backstop is temporary.

“The most sensitive and most difficult area to get right is to try to facilitate Geoffrey Cox, the British Attorney General, to give legal advice to the effect that in his view, Britain is not likely to be trapped in a position that they are uncomfortable with, and can’t get out of it because of the triggering of a backstop indefinitely,” Mr Coveney said.

“I think the Withdrawal Agreement will remain intact but I think there will be an effort to try to introduce some form of declaration that creates a persuasive legal argument that reassures people that the backstop, if it’s ever used in the first place, would be temporary.

“I think some people are overly optimistic at this stage about those negotiations and their outcome. My understanding is that they are difficult.”

On the subject of a hard border, Mr Coveney said he believes any potential conflict will be more likely to happen in Northern Ireland.

“If it all fails politically, collapses and Britain crashes out in 23 days’ time, then I think there is a recognition that the British and Irish governments and EU Commission will have to work together to try to put some complex arrangement in place to prevent physical barriers on the border.

“We have made it very clear that we’re not negotiating any solutions that will result in physical border infrastructure re-emerging.

“The truth is that if there is going to be unrest, it’s more likely to happen in Northern Ireland than in the Republic of Ireland – that’s the truth of it.

“There’s no point pretending otherwise, politics in Northern Ireland has been polarised by Brexit, both communities feel threatened by it.

“Unionists feel that solutions like the backstop may create unintended barriers between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, I don’t believe it does, but that’s the perception.

“On the nationalist side, they feel Brexit may create barriers between them and their own country.”

On alternatives to the backstop as talks remain deadlocked on the issue, Mr Coveney said all alternatives have been studied.

“We did look at all the alternatives that were on the table and available to the backstop and they haven’t stood up to scrutiny here,” he said.

“That’s the problem here, which is why even in a no-deal scenario the way to avoid border infrastructure and the corrosive impact of that on a peace process and relations on the island of Ireland will still need to look like something very similar to the backstop. That’s the truth of it.”

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