Trust between EU and UK ‘damaged’ – Coveney

Posted By: September 13, 2020


RTE.Dublin. Sunday, September 13, 2020 

By Conor Kane.South East Correspondent

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said “trust has been damaged and eroded” between the EU and the UK due to the “hugely irresponsible” actions of the British government in signalling its intent to override elements of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.

Mr Coveney said that he has not yet spoken directly to his counterpart in Britain, but hopes to speak to Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove in the coming days.

“We’re in a difficult place, it’s been a very bad week for trust between the EU and the UK, mainly because of the approach of the British government which really has been quite extraordinary this week,” Mr Coveney said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing mounting criticism over his legislation overriding his Brexit deal.

The Internal Market Bill will see the UK government reserve the right to unilaterally interpret the protocol’s rules on state aid and customs declarations.

The EU’s legal advice says the Northern Ireland Protocol “forms an integral part of the Withdrawal Agreement… If adopted as proposed, this bill will be in clear breach of substantive provisions of the Protocol…”

Speaking in Cork, Mr Coveney said the British government has been saying for a number of months that it is not going to follow through on commitments in the political declaration,” which was signed with the Withdrawal Agreement but which was supposed to shape the Future Relationship discussions.

He added: “If that wasn’t bad enough, the British government this week has committed to break international law and break a treaty that it signed with the EU less than a year ago because they don’t like how it’s now transpiring.”

These actions have left EU and other countries around the world “looking at the British government and saying, ‘is this the actions of a trustworthy partner’,” and so trust has been damaged and eroded this week but we have to focus on trying to rebuild that again,” he said. 

“Ireland needs a deal before the end of the year, so does the UK and certainly the EU would like a deal as well, so I think while we have to call out the hugely irresponsible actions of the British government this week for what it is, and be truthful about that.

“We’ve also got to focus on the bigger prize here which is how do we put all of this back together and how do we find a way of getting a deal before the end of the year.”

The consequences of a failure to reach that deal, he said, will be Britain and Ireland trading on World Trade Organisation rules which will mean tariffs and possibly quotas, “which from an Irish perspective in terms of our trade with the UK, which is worth over €80 billion a year, would of course be very disruptive and very damaging and that’s the last thing we need in a Covid environment that’s putting a lot of pressure on the Irish economy too.”

Asked why he thought the British government has behaved in this way during the last week, he said: “I think it’s difficult to understand, apart from perhaps a deliberate strategy to introduce some real tension into the negotiations at this point, presumably because the British side feel that they can achieve some concessions and flexibility by doing that, from the EU.

“I think it’s backfiring though and we’ll see what happens in the British parliament this week in terms of debating this approach.”

Mr Coveney said that from his perspective, “we’ll focus on what we can do. On the EU side we work very closely with Michel Barnier and his team…and we will be focusing on trying to agree how to implement the Withdrawal Agreement and how to shape the Future Relationship agreement that’s good for the UK and good for Ireland and of course good for the EU as well and that means getting a trade deal, even if it’s a very thin and a very basic trade deal, that avoids tariffs and quotas.”

Part of any deal will have to be a “governance model,” Minister Coveney said, to ensure that “if something like this happens in the future, and Britain reneges on the commitments it’s made, that we have a robust dispute resolution mechanism that can ensure that both sides adhere to the commitments that they’ve made”.

He said that while he has not spoken directly to the British foreign minister in recent days, “very clear messages” have been sent through the Irish embassy.

“My counterparts in the UK have been busy people this week, trying to explain what the British government is doing, but rest assured, the Irish Government’s views and my views are very clearly understood in Number 10.”

Asked if the British side can be trust in any future negotiations, he replied: “The answer to that question has to be ‘yes,’ otherwise we’ll never get a deal, but there is a lot of work to do to rebuild trust after the week that we’ve had.”

Mr Barnier said in a tweet this morning that the NI protocol is not a threat to the integrity of the UK, adding “sticking to facts is also essential”.