‘Listen to Europe,’ Dublin tells UK MPs ahead of Brexit votes

By AFP

LONDON • British MPs seeking to pressure Prime Minister Theresa May this week to renegotiate her Brexit deal should heed European Union (EU) warnings that it will not succeed, Ireland’s foreign minister warned yesterday.

Simon Coveney (picture) said attempts by Brexit supporters to remove or set a time limit on a controversial “backstop” clause on the Irish border would never be accepted by Brussels.

“Listen to what people are saying in Europe,” he told BBC television, saying May’s Brexit deal was “a balanced package that isn’t going to change”.

“The European Parliament will not ratify a withdrawal agreement that doesn’t have a backstop in it, it’s as simple as that,” he added.

Coveney was speaking ahead of another showdown between May and the House of Commons over Britain’s withdrawal from the EU, which is scheduled for tomorrow.

MPs this month rejected the divorce agreement she struck with the bloc last year. On Tuesday night, in a series of votes on parliamentary amendments, they will set out what they want her to do next.

Some MPs want to delay Brexit or adopt a whole new strategy, but others are demanding changes to May’s deal that they suggest could allow them to support it.

These focus on the backstop, an arrangement intended to keep open the border between the UK and Ireland by temporarily tying London to the EU’s trade rules. May has already spent months trying to amend the backstop with no success, but has promised to return to Brussels if that is what her MPs want.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock denied Coveney’s comments meant she could not succeed, telling the same BBC programme that he was taking a “negotiating position”.

He said Dublin did not want Britain to leave the EU without a deal, which is the default position if MPs cannot reach agreement.

The European Commission last week conceded that without a deal, controls would be reimposed on the Irish border, which all sides have warned could undermine the Northern Irish peace process.

“The idea the EU and the Irish government would drive this process to a no-deal exit in order to try to achieve something which is intended to avoid no-deal Brexit, that is not going to happen,” Hancock said.

Coveney repeated that Dublin would be open to amending an accompanying political declaration on future trading ties, to emphasise that the backstop may never be used.

The Sunday Times newspaper raised eyebrows by reporting that officials are looking at what powers they might need in the event of any civil disorder, including imposing martial law.

Hancock confirmed the government is looking at “all the options in all circumstances”, but said martial law “isn’t the focus of our attention”.

Separately, May’s office said it is considering extending House of Commons hours and cancelling MPs’ week-long February holiday to make time to pass all the laws needed to prepare for Brexit. — AFP