The U.K.’s Brexit proposals fall short of the mark and are viewed with widespread skepticism, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said Monday.
Speaking to reporters after talks with the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, Coveney said London’s plans for how to implement an invisible border between Ireland and Northern Ireland weren’t credible and called on Britain to make sure the Good Friday Agreement isn’t damaged by Brexit.
“I think there is a recognition that [the British plan for the Irish border] needs a lot more work,” Coveney said, explaining that the 1998 peace accord was drawn up on the assumption that both Britain and Ireland would remain members of the EU.
Coveney added that unless the U.K. makes a more detailed proposal on what it owes the EU as it leaves the bloc in 2019, talks would not move forward to negotiations on trade. “Clearly, unless there is progress on that issue, we are not going to get to phase two,” he said. The EU has said “sufficient progress” must be made on the Irish border, the exit bill and citizens’ rights before the talks can move on to a future trade relationship.
He also dismissed reports in the British press that it is the EU’s fault that progress on the Irish border is not moving faster.
“I’ve seen some media coverage to suggest that this is all the EU’s fault and Britain wants to resolve all of these issues, but because of the EU it can’t be done. I think really that that is a distortion of the facts,” he said. “Britain is the country that has decided to leave the European Union. Britain in my view has a responsibility to its neighbors and friends.”
One area where there has been “very good progress,” according to Coveney, is on the common travel area, which allows citizens across Ireland to travel freely across the border. The minister said reaching an agreement on this was seen as “a confidence-building measure” that would allow for negotiators to find a way forward “on some of the more contentious and difficult areas.”
The U.K.’s proposals on how to maintain free trade between Ireland and Northern Ireland have raised eyebrows in Dublin and Brussels. Britain has committed to having no physical infrastructure at the border and instead implement so-called waiver systems for traders who undergo strict audits on items such as livestock and agricultural products.
But such suggestions have not convinced the EU.
“Certainly there was a lot of skepticism coming from the [EU’s Brexit] task force as to whether those solutions [would work],” Coveney said. “The response from our own customs team in Ireland was also one of real skepticism … We cannot be part of essentially creating some kind of back door into the single market that’s not properly regulated and that we can’t stand over.”