Britain's International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, is looking to apply significant pressure to the Irish government and the European Union to renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement with the UK.
He has warned that Ireland's continued refusal to renegotiate on the backstop protocol, means the likely outcome of the 'divorce' process will be a no-deal Brexit and a hard border on the island of Ireland.
The hard-nosed move follows UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s government last week rejecting the backstop it had previously agreed. Instead, the House of Commons voted for undefined "alternative arrangements", a somewhat spurious move by the UK parliament. The result now being that Mrs May is set to return to Brussels seeking changes to the deal. Changes, which both the Irish and EU negotiators have said, will not be happening.
On Sunday morning, Secretary Fox said: "Are they really saying that they would rather not negotiate and end up in a no-deal position?" and continued to claim that such action: "seems to me quite irresponsible." Speaking to Sky News he also leveled a warning at the Irish government, saying: "If they won’t negotiate on it then they are likely to end up with no deal and the European Union said that’s the best route to get a hard border."
"So for the Irish I think it’s even more important than most that they are willing to talk to us about what the alternative ways are of achieving no hard border because that’s the stated position of both the Irish government, the British government and indeed the European Union," he went on to explain.
Tánaiste Simon Coveney has reiterated today that: “The Withdrawal Agreement will not be re-opened and the backstop will not be changed, the EU could not be any clearer on that.” He said that if there is a no-deal exit from the EU by the UK on March 29th that: “everyone will suffer more than they need to and Northern Ireland will stand to suffer the most”.
Tánaiste Coveney also claims that in circumstances where the UK leaves without a deal, it will still be required to live up to its responsibilities under the Good Friday Agreement. Brexiteer parliamentarians in Westminster continue to claim that technology could be an alternative to the backstop as a method of avoiding a hard border. However, Tánaiste Coveney today has said: “One thing is certain, the technology to maintain the open border we have today does not exist.”
Mrs May claims that the House of Commons has voted to support the Withdrawal Agreement, if there are changes to the backstop. In other words, they have not voted to support the Withdrawal Agreement. She said: "When I return to Brussels I will be battling for Britain and Northern Ireland." She further claims that she will be armed with a fresh mandate, new ideas and a renewed determination to a agree a pragmatic solution that will enable her to deliver the Brexit which the British people voted for. She maintains in media reports today, that she can achieve these goals while ensuring there is no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, saying: "That is what parliament instructed me to do on Tuesday night."
The UK, and Mrs May do appear to be steadfast in their support of the Good Friday Agreement. Mrs May has rejected the assertion that her seeking changes to the back-stop protocol of the Withdrawal Agreement is tantamount to: "ripping up the Good Friday Agreement". She said: "As Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, I would never do anything to put that union at risk or jeopardise the hard-won peace."
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