Germany in ‘full solidarity’ with Ireland over backstop

Heiko Maas in Dublin today

Colin Gannon

Ireland continues to have “full solidarity” from Germany over the Irish backstop, a senior German minister said today, with the Germans again expressing the EU line that the potential of a hard border is “unacceptable”.

Heiko Maas, Germany’s foreign minister, was speaking about Brexit in Dublin today alongside Tánaiste Simon Coveney when he reiterated German support for ensuring that a hard border is avoided in Northern Ireland.

“Some people call us stubborn, but the truth is avoiding a hard border in Ireland is a fundamental concern for the EU, a union that more than anything else serves one purpose – to build and maintain peace in Europe,” Maas told a gathering of Irish diplomats on Tuesday morning.

Maas urged British MPs to “act responsibly” and not allow the UK to crash out to a potentially calamitous no deal scenario. Mr Coveney, who also spoke at the event, warned that MPs who are planning to vote against Theresa May’s deal need to refrain from “wishful thinking” that the EU is still in negotiation mode.

“Walls and borders can threaten peace, we believe in the peace-making powers of the European Union,” said Maas.

He added: “During the Brexit negotiations, all 27 member states agreed on a common position and stood by it. This unity includes full solidarity with Ireland. We insisted, and still do, a hard border dividing the Irish island is unacceptable.”

Speaking to reporters, Mr Coveney also admitted that the Irish government would not object to a request from the British government to delay Brexit in the event that they seek an extension.

Simon Coveney and Heiko Maas

This comes as UK media reports circulated on Tuesday that British officials were exploring the possibility of extending the withdrawal date with the looming prospect of a potentially dangerous no-deal Brexit.

“From an Irish perspective, if such an ask happens and is justified, we won’t be standing in the way of that but that is really a matter for the British government to make decisions on,” Mr Coveney said.

The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs stressed, however, that British prime minister Theresa May had made it clear that the UK would be leaving the EU as planned on March 29th.

The Irish and German governments have been working to salvage a last-minute “fix” to help British Prime Minister Theresa May get her withdrawal agreement through parliament in the upcoming meaningful vote.

Maas’ address in Dublin marks the fourth occasion of both informal and formal talks between Ireland and German leaders since last week.

Ireland’s Taoiseach Leo Varadkar had a lengthy telephone call with German leader Angela Merkel last week. He then flew to Munich to address a meeting of her coalition partners, the Christian Social Union, and on Friday met the Germany chancellor’s successor as Christian Democrat Union leader, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, for discussions on Brexit and the future of Europe.

Leo Varadkar (Photograph: Sam Boal / RollingNews.ie)

Varadkar speaks German fluently and has a good working relationship with Merkel. The Guardian reports that it was Merkel who requested the phone call with Varadkar last week.

The talks lasted 40 minutes and were, according to Varadkar, “an opportunity to kind of brainstorm a bit as to what we could do to assist prime minister Theresa May in securing ratification of the withdrawal agreement”.

Meanwhile, no-deal planning is being stepped up in Ireland, where the cabinet is being briefed on 15 January on medicines and transport arrangements.

Just last week, the Irish cabinet held a special meeting to plan a date for special emergency legislation – about thirty laws – to be passed in the event of the UK crashing out of the EU bloc.


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