Wed. Jan 16th, 2019

Simon Coveney: DUP turned down offer to meet over Brexit

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Simon Coveney NurPhoto
Simon Coveney said his government reached out “all the time” to the DUP

The Irish foreign affairs minister has said his offer to meet the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) on Thursday has not been taken up by the party.

Simon Coveney is in Belfast to meet business groups and other political leaders about the Brexit deal.

His government has rejected UK proposals to give the Stormont assembly a say over new EU rules for NI, if the border backstop came into effect.

But the DUP has since said it is happy to meet the Mr Coveney later.

The Irish government has urged support for Theresa May’s Brexit deal, despite criticism from the DUP and other parties at Westminster over the backstop proposal.

MPs have been debating the withdrawal agreement ahead of a Commons vote next Tuesday, which the government is expected to lose.

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster’s Good Morning Ulster, Mr Coveney said: “We may not be convincing [the DUP MP] Sammy Wilson but that’s not the same as convincing unionism.

“We’re not trying to bypass the DUP but they cannot have a veto over this process.”

Mr Coveney also said the DUP did “not speak for all of unionism”.

AFP
The DUP’s Sammy Wilson has said there is no way his party will support the deal in next week’s vote

He said he personally reached out to the DUP all the time, and that the Irish government was “not in the business of excluding any party from discussions”.

He added that he was not “trying to meddle” in the affairs of the British government, but that he had an obligation to protect the interests of the island of Ireland as a whole.

But responding to the interview, a DUP spokesperson said the party had “useful conversations” with the Irish government in the past, and that Arlene Foster was happy to meet Mr Coveney later.

The Irish government continues to support the current withdrawal agreement and has backed Mrs May continuously because it believes the deal is the best one for the UK as a whole and Ireland, he said.

What is the latest?

The discussions are still centred mainly on the backstop: the position of last resort to maintain a soft border on the island of Ireland.

It would involve Northern Ireland staying in large parts of the EU single market, unless and until a long-term deal emerged that kept the border as open as it is now.

On Wednesday, the government released a plan aimed at winning support for Mrs May’s Brexit deal, in terms of providing assurances over the backstop.

They include:

  • Before the backstop would come into effect, the assembly would have to be consulted, with its views brought before Parliament ahead of a vote at Westminster
  • The assembly would approve any new single market regulations for Northern Ireland introduced by the EU – updates to existing rules would automatically apply
  • No divergence in rules applied in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK
  • Commitment to a role for the executive on the committees which would manage and oversee the backstop.

BBC News NI’s business editor John Campbell said the proposals appear to fall short of an outright veto as they do not specify that the assembly must give agreement before the UK government acts.

Confused by Brexit jargon? Reality Check unpacks the basics

What’s changed?

The EU-UK agreement, known as the withdrawal agreement and signed in November, laid out the procedure for any new EU rules being introduced after the backstop is triggered.

The EU would inform the UK about the new rule and a joint EU-UK committee would discuss its implication for backstop within six weeks.

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Your guide to Brexit jargon

The committee either agrees to add the new rule to the backstop or if agreement isn’t reached will “examine all further possibilities to maintain the good functioning” the backstop.

If there is deadlock – no agreement “within a reasonable time” – the EU is entitled to “take appropriate remedial measures”.

The UK is now proposing that its position would be heavily influenced by the assembly.

What has the reaction been?

Pul Faith
Under the plans, Stormont would be given the power to vote against new EU rules if the border backstop comes into force

The government proposals published on Wednesday have been widely dismissed.

The DUP leader Mrs Foster said the government was still wasting time and that the Brexit deal was already “dead”.

Sinn Féin’s deputy leader Michelle O’Neill also said it could not support any proposal that could give the DUP a “veto” in the assembly over any backstop-related measures.

It – and other Stormont parties – have said they are mindful that the devolved assembly’s cross-community voting rules – which mean a majority of unionists and nationalists must agree on contentious proposals in order for them to pass – would mean that the DUP (and other unionists) could block backstop-related measures even if there is a numerical majority in favour of them.

DUP turned down meeting offer – Coveney

The Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney has said his offer to meet the DUP on Thursday has not been taken up by the party. The Tánaiste is in Belfast to meet business groups and other political leaders about the Brexit deal.

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