DUBLIN (Reuters) - The European Union plans to negotiate Britain’s withdrawal on the basis of the British government’s white paper on Brexit and will not focus on amendments passed by parliament, Ireland’s foreign minister said on Wednesday.
One of several amendments passed by the British parliament this week accepted Brexit campaigners’ demands for a legal guarantee that there would be no post-Brexit customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.
That move could complicate Ireland’s demand for a backstop agreement that could have kept Northern Ireland but not the rest of the United Kingdom in an EU customs union.
Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said the amendment did not make that backstop illegal in the UK, but that it and other amendments were unhelpful because they distracted from urgent British-EU negotiations and cast doubt on whether May could secure backing for a final deal from parliament.
“If we get distracted by individual amendments to individual pieces of legislation — legislation that isn’t even fully passed yet, and isn’t even passed by the House of Lords yet — then I think we get dragged into an unnecessary debate that wastes a lot of time and energy,” Coveney told Irish state broadcaster RTE in a radio interview.
“What we need to do is focus on the white paper that the British government has published and it is up to the British government then to get that through their parliamentary system or get a version of that when the negotiations conclude,” he said. “That is the only way we can work.”
It has to be the British government rather than parliament leading the negotiations, he added, noting that changes to legislation can be reversed.
“The way in which international trade and political negotiations and agreements happen is that governments negotiate on behalf of their countries and then they go back once an agreement is made to look for support and ratification,” he said.
“What the British parliament is trying to do is the other way around, which doesn’t work.”
Reporting by Conor Humphries; Editing by Catherine Evans