Brexit has only made Europe more united behind small countries such as Ireland and member states will not bow to Boris Johnson on the backstop the Tánaiste says.
Simon Coveney says an “unexpected upside” of Brexit is that it has shown other small nations that they will be supported by all members of the EU.
Speaking after a meeting with the Danish government as part of a series of visits to European capitals, Mr Coveney again stated that the withdrawal agreement is not up for renegotiation.
While he said the Government would listen to any suggestions British prime minister, Boris Johnson, puts forward regarding alternatives he said the backstop is “not an unreasonable ask”.
Mr Coveney said: “Ireland, unfortunately, is in the eye of the storm here because it’s issues on the island of Ireland that seem to be the source of disagreement at the moment. We will work to try and change that but I do want to make it very clear that the withdrawal agreement is not up for renegotiation.”
It came as French president, Emmanuel Macron, told Mr Johnson that the EU will not scrap the Brexit deal negotiated by his predecessor, Theresa May, when both leaders met in Paris.
Mr Coveney said that one of the “unexpected consequences” of Britain’s decision to leave is that it has resulted in “an extraordinary expression of EU solidarity with a small country like Ireland” which he described as very reassuring:
“Brexit has forced people to think about why we need a union and why countries, particularly small and medium-sized countries need to be part of something bigger to have a stage internationally, that protects them, that gives them a voice, that allows them to shape global policy. A lot of other smaller are now looking at how Ireland is being treated and they are getting a lot of reassurance that if it was them they would be getting the same level of solidarity and support from bigger countries and that has been an unexpected upside of these Brexit debates.”
Minister of State for European Affairs, Helen McEntee, suggested that Mr Johnson has taken an off-the-cuff suggestion made by German Chancellor Angela Merkel that another solution to the backstop could be found in 30 days as a “challenge”.
However, she said that any proposals put forward to date are not workable: “We have yet to see any credible proposals if the prime minister can come up with something in 30 days, of course, we would be here and willing to listen to that. We have always said that if there are alternative arrangements that we would be willing to listen to them and obviously take them on board but we have yet to hear them.”
Ms McEntee added that the Irish Government and EU Commission have been in discussions about planning for a no-deal Brexit. She said there will have to be north-south checks “somewhere on the island” because ports and airport only deal with goods on an east-west basis.