EU countries wont allow Brexit to destroy three decades of peacemaking on the island of Ireland, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney declared in a speech Monday evening.
“We simply cannot countenance a return to the borders of the past,” Coveney told an audience at MacGill Summer School in Glenties, northwest Ireland. “Its a determination that the sweat and tears of a peace process of more than 30 years in the making wont be sacrificed by the most extreme Brexiteer ambitions.”
Coveney also reiterated Irelands hope that the U.K. remain in the EUs single market and customs union, and insisted Dublin wants only the best for Britain.
“A strong British economy is good for Ireland,” Coveney said. “When we say we want the closest possible future relationship between Ireland and Britain and the EU and Britain, we mean it … because by and large whats good for Britain, economically certainly, is also good for us.”
Coveney spoke emotionally about the close ties between Britain and Ireland, including his own time working and studying in the U.K. “There simply isnt anything remotely anti-British in the positions we are taking to protect peace and both the spirit and realities of the partnerships that are in place now between our two countries,” he insisted.
A dispute over a proposed “backstop” for the Northern Ireland-Ireland border has emerged as the main obstacle in the effort to finalize a formal withdrawal treaty between the U.K. and EU. Officials on each side have warned that the chances of a “no-deal” scenario have increased in recent weeks because of the standoff.
The EU27 have so far insisted they will not agree to any treaty unless the backstop is included — a position the blocs chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, reiterated at a news conference on Friday. While U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May has repeatedly committed to including a backstop for Ireland, May has also said that the way the EU envisions it — keeping Northern Ireland inside the EU customs union — is unacceptable and a constitutional threat to the U.K.
Coveney, in his speech, said he is confident Ireland has the support of the other 26 EU nations.
“Compared to a year ago, there is an even greater understanding across the European Union of why the Irish issues matter so much and why they are at the forefront of the Brexit debate,” he said. “An outstanding solidarity illustrated by visits to the border by prime ministers and EU ministers from partners like Austria, Finland, Belgium, France, Sweden and many others … Their message is clear: If Ireland is unhappy, were unhappy. The Irish border is the EUs border, and were together on this.”