Ireland says UK cannot unilaterally scrap border backstop

UK

FILE PHOTO: Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Simon Coveney, speaks at a ‘Getting Ireland Brexit Ready’ workshop at the Convention Centre in Dublin, Ireland October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne/File Photo

DUBLIN (Reuters) – Neither Ireland nor the European Union would ever sign up to a backstop agreement to keep the Irish border open after Brexit that could be ended unilaterally by Britain, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said on Monday.

With just five months until Britain is due to exit the EU, Prime Minister Theresa May has yet to clinch a divorce deal, with negotiators stuck on the terms of the so-called “backstop” insurance arrangement to keep open the border between British-ruled Northern Ireland and EU member state Ireland.

The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported that May’s Brexit Minister Dominic Raab had privately demanded the right to pull Britain out of the “backstop” arrangement for the Irish border after three months.

“The Irish position remains consistent and very clear that a ‘time-limited backstop’ or a backstop that could be ended by UK unilaterally would never be agreed to by Ireland or the European Union,” Coveney said on Twitter.

“These ideas are not backstops at all + don’t deliver on previous UK commitments,” he added, following the media report that Raab made the pitch to Coveney in a private meeting in London last Tuesday.

After a meeting in Dublin on Friday with Britain’s Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington, May’s de facto deputy, both Coveney and Lidington said the two sides were “very close” to resolving differences on the border issue.

Lidington also said the British government would stand by the written commitments it had already made on the backstop, which include an agreement that it would apply unless and until a better solution is found.

The EU has since suggested that a tweaked “two-tier” backstop covering all of the UK could give mainland Britain some scope to set trade rules while keeping the province of Northern Ireland aligned with the EU, diplomats and officials said on Friday.

Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky/Guy Faulconbridge

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