DUBLIN (Reuters) - Brexit negotiators have spent two years looking at alternatives to the backstop insurance policy to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland and have not found any that work, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said on Wednesday.
British lawmakers ordered Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday to renegotiate the divorce deal she struck with the European Union in November to remove the backstop, which would require some EU rules to apply in British-ruled Northern Ireland until an alternative plan can be found to keep the border open.
Brexit minister Stephen Barclay said possible options to resolve the issue included time limits, exit clauses and technological solutions. But Coveney told national broadcaster RTE that none of those proposals were new.
“We have been through all of these things. We have tested them and we have found that they do not stand up to scrutiny, and now we have a British prime minister advocating again for the same things that were tested,” Coveney said.
“What we are being asked to do here is to compromise on a solution that works and to replace it with wishful thinking. That’s what’s being asked of the Irish government and we won’t do it.”
May has said she will seek “legally binding changes” to the divorce deal but has been met with a blunt response from the EU, with European Council President Donald Tusk, among others, backing Dublin in saying it was not up for renegotiation.
Coveney said there were mechanisms to get around some of the challenges May faces but the only way to do so was through the accompanying political declaration on future EU-UK ties. Unlike the binding divorce agreement, the non-binding declaration can be renegotiated to ease concerns on the backstop, he said.
However both sides were “running out of road” to prevent Britain crashing out of the bloc at the end of March without an agreement, he added.
Coveney also challenged May to stand by previous statements that the backstop was necessary to rule out a return of checks between British-run Northern Ireland and EU-member Ireland. He rejected any view in London that the potential economic damage to Ireland from a no deal Brexit would weaken its resolve.
In a speech later on Wednesday, he said: “It is vitally important that politicians in Westminster understand the overwhelming wish across society in Northern Ireland not to return to the borders and division of times past.”
“Anybody who allows that to happen will be judged harshly by history and rightly so. This government in Dublin is not going to allow it and I want to be crystal clear, there are some things that are more important than economic consequences.”
Editing by Alison Williams and Angus MacSwan