‘I’m really worried about where Brexit is going’ – Coveney

Despite not wanting to be “a prophet of doom”, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade, Simon Coveney, has delivered a chilling warning regarding the current state of affairs on Brexit.

The caution came just hours after the minister’s his first meeting with Brandon Lewis – the newly-appointed Northern Ireland Secretary of State – who took office earlier this month after Julian Smith was sacked from the position by UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Addressing the Michael Dillon Memorial Lecture – an event organised by the Irish Guild of Agricultural Journalists and supported by Kerry Group – the Fine Gael politician highlighted how Lewis is the fourth Secretary of State for Northern Ireland that he has dealt with in just two and a half years.

“I’m really worried about where Brexit is going – and I don’t mind saying that publicly,” Coveney said.

I think we are on a collision course with Britain as an EU.

“I don’t know whether that is a deliberate strategy, I think it probably has to be, on the British side.

“Prime Minister Johnson has put a cabinet together which is really about ensuring that there is no decent on the Brexit question,” he said.

Undermining

Addressing an audience of the country’s agricultural journalists, the minister contended that the narrative outlined by Boris Johnson, and his chief Brexit negotiator David Frost, in recent days is “simply not consistent” with the type of deal the EU is planning to finalise by the end of 2020.

He went so far as to suggest that the UK government appears to be acting in a way that frustrates the withdrawal agreement – a treaty between the EU, the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) and the UK, signed on January 24 this year, which sets out the terms of the UK’s exit from the bloc.

He also warned of potentially threatening soundings with regards to the Irish protocol on the withdrawal agreement and its political declaration.

“I don’t want to be a prophet of doom; but this is going to get a lot worse before it gets better.

We see a British Government effectively questioning, if not openly undermining, a treaty it openly signed with the EU.

“It is absolutely crystal clear in the text of the Irish protocol of the withdrawal agreement that while trade of goods that travel from Northern Ireland into GB [Great Britain] will be frictionless; goods coming the other way need to be checked in Northern Ireland ports.

“That is because effectively they are treated as goods coming from GB into the EU single market – potentially – as there is a commitment that ‘under no circumstances’ will there be any checks on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

“So if you have no plans for, and no infrastructure to check, goods going between Northern Ireland and the Republic then you have got to check those goods somewhere else.

“And it’s very clear in that protocol where they need to be checked.

I’m not asking anybody to describe that as ‘a border down the Irish Sea’ – I don’t describe it as that – but it is what it is.

“We will limit to the greatest extent possible and we will set up an implementation committee between the EU and the UK to try to do this in a pragmatic way that limits the disruption to trade.

“But to essentially make the case that there would be no checks on goods between GB and Northern Ireland, just like there would be no checks on goods going from Northern Ireland into GB, is simply factually incorrect,” he said.

Levelling with people

The minister is of the view that if the withdrawal agreement – and the Irish protocol to it – isn’t followed through on there will be “no trade deal agreed”.

“I don’t see how there can be because it will be such a breach of faith. Everybody wants and needs a sensible trade deal to avoid tariffs and quotas,” he said.

He says the next 12 months will be crucial for Ireland.

“Irish politics is going to be dominated by Brexit for the next 12 months, whether we like it or not.

The idea of us having a comprehensive trade deal across all sectors by the end of the year is simply unachievable.

“The transition period is up at the end of the year; and I don’t think the UK Government is going to seek an extension.

“Therefore, whatever we are going to get done to limit the damage at the end of the transition period has to be done by October or November,” he concluded.