Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Irish Foreign Affairs Minister On Brexit And A Seat On The U.N. Security Council


Great Britain's withdrawal from the European Union keeps sending tremors across Europe, and one of the countries feeling the biggest impact is Ireland. Of course, it shares a border with Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K. Here's what Ireland's Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Simon Coveney told me the last time we spoke when he visited Washington early last year.


DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER SIMON COVENEY: Ireland doesn't want to be in this place. Brexit is not an Irish policy. We think it's a mistaken policy, but we have to accept that it's happening.

SHAPIRO: Since then, Britain has officially left the EU. There is now a transition period until the end of the year to work out details. And Minister Coveney is back in Washington, asking members of Congress and the Trump administration to raise diplomatic pressure on the U.K. He joins us once again.

Welcome back.

COVENEY: Thanks very much.

SHAPIRO: You've always told us that your biggest concern is the border between your country and Northern Ireland, both because of the economic relationship and because of the fragile peace in Northern Ireland. Explain the latest move by Prime Minister Boris Johnson that has you so worried.

COVENEY: Yeah. Well, we managed to get an agreement a year ago that resolved the border issue by effectively ensuring that Northern Ireland (inaudible) leaving the European Union would effectively remain a de facto extension of the EU's single market for goods, which - and by doing that, we solved the border question because, of course, there would be no need for border infrastructure in that scenario. That agreement effectively was part of what was called the withdrawal agreement, which became a treaty and international law. And three (inaudible) ago, the British government effectively announced to everybody's surprise that they were going to introduce domestic legislation that potentially undermined that international treaty that was agreed last year to effectively solve the Irish border question in the context of Brexit.

SHAPIRO: Which members of Johnson's own government have called a violation of international law.

COVENEY: Absolutely. So, I mean, this is - you know, this is either a negotiating strategy or a deliberate attempt to break a previous treaty. Either way, it backfired, I think, quite spectacularly because this has led the last five British prime ministers - all of them have come out and rejected this approach, saying this is not what Britain should do. It'll damage Britain's reputation internationally. It's going to undermine trust between the EU and the U.K. negotiating teams and so on, so forth. I mean, we expect Britain as a country to set standards in terms of adherence to international law not breach treaties that it signed and designed less than 12 months ago. And so I'm here in Washington explaining to both Democrats and Republicans on the Hill and the White House and the State Department - yesterday - the Irish perspective and the concerns around this.

SHAPIRO: So what specific requests are you making of the American officials that you're meeting with? I mean, what can the U.S. do?

COVENEY: Well, I mean, we've - what we've said here is we know that many in the U.S. administration and many on the Hill care about the Irish peace process because in many ways, the United States is a guarantor of peace on the island of Ireland. U.S. intervention and U.S. diplomacy helped to facilitate a peace agreement in Ireland more than two decades ago and has certainly been involved in sustaining that peace process since then. Anything that undermines peace and political stability on the island of Ireland raises serious concerns in Washington. And so that is why we have heard some very strong messaging from very senior decision-makers in Washington, which essentially says to the U.K., if you undermine peace and stability on the island of Ireland by not following through on the commitments that you've made, then don't expect to come to Washington looking for a bilateral trade deal between the U.S. and the U.K.

SHAPIRO: But just briefly in the few seconds we have left, are you pitting one U.S. ally against another and asking people to choose between the U.K., a strong American ally, and Ireland, also a strong American ally?

COVENEY: No. What we're saying is we're asking the U.S. to remind the U.K. of the importance of the peace process in Ireland and to ensure that Ireland isn't an innocent casualty of the Brexit negotiations. I don't think we need to be. I think there are solutions to the outstanding issues if the U.K. approaches them with an open mind. And I think we can not only put a trade deal in place between the EU and the U.K. that helps to make the Irish issue easier to solve, I also think we can ensure that the British government follows through on their own commitments made a year ago, now enshrined in international law, to solve the Irish question linked to Brexit.

SHAPIRO: All right. Ireland's Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, thank you for speaking with us.

COVENEY: Thank you very much, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.