DUBLIN (Reuters) - Britain has not yet presented any solutions to solve the Brexit impasse, Ireland’s foreign minister said on Wednesday after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told parliament substantial progress was being made in the negotiations.
Simon Coveney reiterated that as Johnson was advocating the removal of the Irish “backstop” arrangement aimed at preventing the return of post-Brexit border controls between Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland, it was up to the British premier to present a convincing alternative.
But none have been forthcoming, Coveney said, echoing what European Union officials in Brussels have been saying, categorically contradicting Johnson.
“This process cannot move forward unless and until the British government comes forward with actual proposals that make sense so we can interrogate them,” Coveney told reporters as the government launched a fresh appeal to business to get ready for Britain potentially exiting the EU without a deal to smooth the transition.
“The British government does need to hear this message very clearly both privately and publicly that this is a problem that’s real, that’s complex and needs a solution, and at the moment they haven’t come forward with any solutions.”
In a separate interview with national broadcaster RTE, Coveney added that “no proposals at all” had so far emerged from the new British government.
After British lawmakers made a successful start on Tuesday in a bid to stop Johnson leading Britain to a “no deal” Brexit on Oct. 31, Coveney said that if London wanted an extension to that deadline, “whichever prime minister” seeks one will need to make a persuasive case as to how extra time can be used to strike a withdrawal agreement with Brussels.
Ireland’s position remained that if it makes sense to extend to try to get a deal, then Dublin would support that, he added.
With Ireland’s economy being the most vulnerable among remaining EU members to Brexit, Dublin began a fresh communications blitz to nudge firms to take practical steps to prepare such as examining their supply chains, potential tariffs and securing customs numbers to continue trading with Britain.
“Regardless of what’s happening in Westminster, we need to be preparing for the worst. Any business that is not planning for a no deal is being naive. They need to be confronted with the reality from government and state agencies of how to prepare,” Coveney said.
“”We know that there are still 3,000 companies in Ireland who had trade with the UK that was worth more than 100,000 euros ($111,440) last year who haven’t yet contacted Revenue to get an EORI (customs) number, and that’s madness.”
The backstop is an insurance policy approved by Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May meant to uphold the invisible border between EU-member Ireland and Northern Ireland after Brexit pending a future EU-UK trade deal.
The open border is seen by many on the island of Ireland and the EU as important to safeguarding the 1998 Good Friday accord that ended decades of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.
Brexit supporters in Britain and pro-British unionists in Northern Ireland, however, fear the backstop will tie the United Kingdom to EU trading rules indefinitely.
Additional reporting by Graham Fahy Editing by Mark Heinrich