A change of Tory leader will not change Northern Ireland’s Brexit backstop, Ireland’s Foreign Minister and Tánaiste Simon Coveney warned British politicians this week.
The Tánaiste warned British politicians against playing “party politics” with peace in Northern Ireland.
He also said they fundamentally “misunderstand” the EU if they believe that a Tory leadership change would deliver a different outcome to what Theresa May had managed with her Withdrawal Agreement.
Mrs May is this week preparing to present it to MPs in the Commons for a fourth attempt to get it passed.
Cabinet colleagues and backbenchers have been warned that failure will lead to one of three ‘undesirable’ outcomes: crashing out of the EU with no deal and the regulatory chaos that will ensue; a second referendum; a general election.
Mr Coveney lent his voice to warnings that Britain could leave with no deal “by default” if it does not soon “get its act together”.
“The EU has said very clearly the Withdrawal Agreement has been negotiated over two and a half years, it was agreed with the British government and cabinet and it’s not up for renegotiation, even if there is a new British prime minister,” said Mr Coveney.
He said political events at Westminster had been “extraordinary” because many British politicians “don’t, quite frankly, understand the complexity of politics in Northern Ireland”.
“They have tried to dumb this debate down into a simplistic argument whereby it’s Britain versus the EU, as opposed to two friends trying to navigate through the complexity of a very, very difficult agreement,” he said.
The tánaiste said that UK politicians who thought a new prime minister could strike a new deal did not understand the EU.
“For the EU and Ireland this has always been about trying to protect the EU, its integrity, its single market, its customs union, its members and also trying to respect the decision of British people,” he said.
“For Britain, in many ways, it’s been about party politics and personalities and many people seem to think Britain would have got a much better deal if only they had a tougher prime minister. In my view that is a fundamental misunderstanding of how the European Union operates,” he said.
Mr Coveney also said that the UK should not assume that another extension would be granted by the EU if a deal were not agreed by the deadline, which is 31 October.
Mrs May is hoping her ‘new and improved’ Withdrawal Agreement bill will persuade some pro-Brexit Labour MPs to vote with her because of what she promised would be assurances on workers’ rights.
“When the Withdrawal Agreement Bill comes before MPs, it will represent a new, bold offer to MPs, with an improved package of measures that I believe can win new support,” she said.
Former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Former Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey and current International Development Secretary Rory Stewart have all said they will contest the party leadership if and when Mrs May steps down after MPs decide on the bill and before the Tory party conference in October.