Ireland’s deputy prime minister has warned the British government that the border backstop in the EU withdrawal agreement will not be changed.
The backstop aims to prevent a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland and is hotly opposed by many UK MPs.
That opposition led to Prime Minister Theresa May’s EU withdrawal deal losing a House of Commons vote by 432 votes to 202 last week.
Tory Brexiteers and Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) say the backstop proposal could tie the UK into a customs union with the EU for years.
They have called for it to be renegotiated or even scrapped if May’s Brexit deal is to stand a chance of being passed in a second Commons vote.
But Irish deputy prime minister Simon Coveney told the BBCs Andrew Marr Show today that without the backstop, the EU would not ratify the deal.
He said Ireland would not stand in the way if the UK opted to extend Article 50, the two-year process for leaving the EU scheduled to end on March 29, to find a way forward.
“Britain and Ireland are two islands next to each other. We have to work out these things together and stop talking about games of chicken.”
Coveney added: “The European Parliament will not ratify a withdrawal agreement that doesn’t have a backstop in it. It’s as simple as that.
“The backstop is already a compromise. It is a series of compromises. It was designed around British red lines.”
Unless Article 50 is extended, the UK will leave the EU at the end of March, with or without a deal.
If a hard border is reinstated as a result of a no-deal Brexit, people and goods passing between Ireland and the UK will have to be checked.
It could also reignite violence, with a hard border becoming a terrorism target, the former chief constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland has warned.
Sir Hugh Orde told Irish broadcaster RTE that security patrols would be unavoidable after a hard Brexit and they would be ‘at risk’ from dissident republicans.
But according to a leaked note obtained by The Guardian, the EU will only look again at the backstop if the UK agrees a permanent customs union with the bloc.
The Prime Minister will attempt to get her deal through a second Commons vote on Tuesday, but she also faces a number of amendments from MPs.