Ireland will not back any Brexit divorce deal that alters the core principles of this week’s ill-fated draft UK/EU agreement, Dublin has insisted.
Simon Coveney, the Republic’s deputy prime minister (tanaiste) said the Irish government would consider alternative proposals if any are forthcoming from London, but stressed it would not countenance anything that fell short of the assurances it needs over the shape of the border post Brexit.
He told the Irish parliament: “We are in a position where we still need to find a way forward but, let me be very clear, the core issues that Ireland got agr eement on at the start of this week are not changing.”
Prime Minister Theresa May is facing a race against time to make progress in talks with Brussels amid a deadlock over the border.
The Irish government had said on Wednesday that it expected Theresa May to provide it with the text of any new agreement by Thursday – but it was not clear on Thursday night if this has been provided.
The Irish government said nothing when contacted by the News Letter, and a No 10 spokesman would only say that they do not provide “running commentary” on the negotiations.
It is understood that Mrs May was hoping to make a new offer on Friday which would satisfy both the Irish government and the DUP, after the latter scuppered an EU-UK deal at the 11th hour on Monday.
However, regarding the prospects for a deal, a UK government source said on Thursday night: “We’re not there yet.”
The agreement which the DUP vetoed on Monday had envisaged the alignment of regulations on both sides of the Irish border in order to maintain the free flow of goods.
The EU has reportedly now set a new deadline for resolving the outstanding issues – 1am on Sunday.
Speaking on Thursday about the kind of terms he would accept, Mr Coveney insisted Ireland is advocating a solution that will benefit all the people of the island and also Britain.
“There are lots of issues that are subject to negotiation,” he said.
“We accept that the British government is trying to move this process forward in good faith. We want to work with them on that, and not against them.
“But Ireland has real concerns and they are important to this country and its future and they are important to this island and its future and we have an obligation to ensure we act accordingly.”
The senior Fine Gael TD added: “We will not support anything that in our view risks the re-emergence of a hard border on this island in the context of these negotiations.”
Sinn Fein urged Mr Coveney to go further and state that his government would not sign up to any deal that saw Northern Ireland leave the formal customs union and single market structures.
The Tanaiste declined, adding: “This is a sensitive negotiation at a very, very sensitive time so what you are not going to get from me is statements that are going to stoke up what is already a difficult relationship management exercise.”
Pressure is growing on Mrs May to get leaders at the December 14 European Council summit to declare that enough progress has been made on divorce issues – principally the Irish border and the bill which the UK must pay the EU – to allow trade talks to begin, with business chiefs warning companies will activate contingency plans that will cost Britain jobs if there is further delay.
After a phone call with Mrs May on Wednesday, taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that whilst he was hoping to see the text of a new offer by Thursday, talks could be picked up again in the New Year.
On Thursday morning, Mrs May’s official spokesman had said “we are close to an agreement, but there is more work still to be done”, but at time of writing there was no public acknowleldgement of a decisive breakthrough.
Reuters news agency has quoted EU executive chief spokesman Margaritis Schinas telling reporters: “We stand ready to receive Prime Minister May at any moment in time when they’re ready.
“This will have to happen this week. In this building, we work for a full week, 24/7, and our week includes Sunday.”
The report added that, when asked if Sunday’s deadline was midnight in Brussels time or in London (given that the two cities are an hour apart), he said that both time zones were valid.