Theresa May’s bid to get EU concessions on the Northern Ireland Brexit backstop has been strongly rejected by Dublin.
The Prime Minister has anchored her attempts to try and re-sell her Brexit strategy to Parliament on a push to change the backstop proposals which have been roundly condemned by prominent Leave supporters.
However, Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney firmly insisted the EU was not prepared to accept changes to the deal which is aimed at preventing the return of a hard border.
He told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show: “The European Parliament will not ratify a Withdrawal Agreement that doesn’t have a backstop in it. It’s as simple as that.
“The backstop is already a compromise. It is a series of compromises. It was designed around British red lines.
“Ireland has the same position as the European Union now, I think, when we say that the backstop as part of the Withdrawal Agreement is part of a balanced package that isn’t going to change.”
In what is likely to be seen as a swipe at hardline Tory Brexiteers, Coveney, the Irish deputy prime minister, told the Press Association that those “misrepresenting” the backstop had failed to produce an alternative to it.
Coveney said the British Cabinet had endorsed the Withdrawal Agreement including the backstop aimed at preventing a hard border, as he made clear it would not be changed.
He told the Press Association: “A hard border cannot return.
“Peace and the Good Friday Agreement are more important than Brexit.
“Even in a no-deal Brexit situation every party and every MP in the UK will have a responsibility to ensure there is no return to a hard border and Northern Ireland is protected.
“That won’t be easy and those who misrepresent the backstop don’t have an alternative to it.
“With 60 days (from Monday) to go, the people attacking the backstop need to be asked two questions. Firstly, what is their alternative?
“Secondly, do they wish to protect the peace process?”
The backstop, which would see the UK obey EU customs rules if no wider trade agreement is sorted out after a transition period, has been attacked by Brexiteers who say it could keep Britain tied to Brussels indefinitely.
The issue is likely to feature in a Commons Brexit showdown on Tuesday after Leave backers tabled amendments to a Government motion calling for major changes to the backstop.
Commons Speaker John Bercow will decide if the backstop amendments get to be voted on by MPs when the PM’s Brexit stance is again considered in Parliament on Tuesday.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock denied Coveney’s comments meant May’s Brexit deal was “dead in the water”.
Hancock said: “That’s a negotiating position the Irish are taking, but I think it’s also extremely clear from that interview and the tone… Ireland doesn’t want to have a no-deal Brexit.”