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Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney Discusses The Latest Brexit Developments


With the United Kingdom hurtling towards October 31, the Halloween deadline for leaving the EU, with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's move to suspend Parliament and with a crashing-out-of-the-EU, hard, no-deal Brexit looking more likely, we wanted to check in on Ireland, which stands to be the country most deeply affected by Brexit, after Britain itself.

Simon Coveney is Ireland's deputy prime minister - also foreign minister - and he is on the line.

Welcome back to the program.

SIMON COVENEY: Thank you very much for having me on.

KELLY: I'll start. I'm just curious. In Ireland, to what extent is Brexit dominating the headlines, dominating the political conversation?

COVENEY: Oh, I mean, Brexit is absolutely dominating politics in Ireland right now. And it has been for quite some time because the decision of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union opens up some very, very difficult questions to answer. The real question is, how do we prevent the reemergence of a physical border between Northern Ireland, which will - is obviously part of the United Kingdom and will leave the European Union, and the Republic of Ireland, which very much will stay in the European Union and its single market? And as many listeners will know who know Ireland, order infrastructure on the island of Ireland brings back terrible memories of violence, of terrorism, of mayhem.

KELLY: It's interesting. We had you on the show back in February, and you were talking then about the challenges raised by the possibility of a physical border being reimposed between Ireland and Northern Ireland. You talked about your fears about the economic damage that might result. But you were far more focused on the damage to prospects for peace to neighbors getting along with each other. It sounds like that's still where you are.

COVENEY: It is. There are some things that are more important than the economy. I know it's hard to believe I'm saying that, but it's true. And we know that on our island. We have a fragile peace process. It's a very successful one. It's one that the U.S. have been instrumental in facilitating and supporting through various presidents. And so there are many from Irish America who are watching closely to see how Brexit unfolds, who are insisting that the solutions we put in place protect the peace process and the relationships that it supports. And that is, of course, the Irish government's view as well.

KELLY: So let me turn you to the what next. When we talked to you in February, you also told us, we're not going to let this happen - this being a hard border. By what means can you stop it?

COVENEY: Well, that's what this negotiation is about, and we have very, very strong solidarity across the European Union. And everywhere I go, EU foreign ministers and, indeed, prime ministers are very clear that they are absolutely in solidarity with the Irish position. And the commitments that the U.K. have given through this Brexit negotiation process need to be honored.

And unfortunately, the British prime minister is not honoring the commitments that his predecessor made, and so we have a stalemate. And the U.K. faces choices if they choose not to compromise on the position that they've taken now. We are going to see a no-deal Brexit unless the British Parliament forces a change of view in the British government. And that is something that nobody wants, but we have been preparing for well over a year now for how Ireland would respond to a no-deal in terms of contingency planning. But it certainly doesn't mean it's easy.

KELLY: I hate to ask it quite this way, but what is the worst-case scenario you can envision if Britain does crash out of the European Union on October 31 with no deal?

COVENEY: Well, then Ireland will have to make some very difficult choices. If we don't protect the integrity of the EU's single market, if we don't know what's coming into the EU via Northern Ireland, then if we're not careful, we'll be taken out of the EU single market ourselves by the U.K.'s decision.

Many of the big U.S. multinationals in - are present in Ireland to sell into the rest of the EU because it's a seamless market, and we have to protect that. And that means we have to find a way of checking products coming from Northern Ireland into the Republic of Ireland and to do that in a way that doesn't undermine the peace process or cause tension. And that will not be easy, I can tell you. But that will be a series of decisions that the British government will be forcing on Ireland if they force a no-deal Brexit. That will create huge resentment in Ireland and a very difficult political discussion in Northern Ireland amongst Nationalists and Unionists in terms of the future direction of Northern Ireland, which is certainly not something that we want to see.

KELLY: Well, I thank you very much for your time.

Thank you.

COVENEY: Thank you.

KELLY: Simon Coveney - he's deputy prime minister and foreign minister of the Republic of Ireland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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