Ireland says Johnson ‘very unhelpful’ on Brexit, risks no deal

LONDON (Reuters) – Irelands foreign minister, Simon Coveney, said new British Prime Minister Boris Johnsons approach to Brexit was “very unhelpful” and would block an agreement, after Johnson rejected a key Irish demand his predecessor had agreed to.

FILE PHOTO: Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson greets Ireland's Foreign and Trade Minister Simon Coveney at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London, January 31, 2018. REUTERS/Jack Taylor/Pool

Johnson told the British parliament on Thursday he wanted to abolish the backstop, an insurance policy designed to prevent the return of a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland in the event of longer term trade talks collapsing.

Many Brexit supporters dislike the backstop – which would require Northern Ireland or the United Kingdom as a whole to stay in the European Unions customs union – as it would make it hard for Britain to negotiate free trade deals with other countries.

“The statements of the British prime minister yesterday in the House of Commons were very unhelpful to this process,” Coveney told reporters on Friday after meeting Britains new secretary of state for Northern Ireland in Belfast.

“He seems to have made a deliberate decision to set Britain on a collision course with the European Union and with Ireland in relation to the Brexit negotiations,” Coveney added.

The backstop forms a part of a Brexit Withdrawal Agreement which Johnsons predecessor, Theresa May, negotiated with Brussels last year. Britains parliament rejected the agreement three times, ultimately forcing May to resign.

The EU has said the backstop is essential for any transition deal and a precondition for talks on a longer-term trade agreement.

“The approach that the British prime minister seems to now be taking is not going to be the basis of an agreement, and thats worrying for everybody,” Coveney said.

Johnson has pledged to take Britain out of the EU on Oct. 31, even if it means leaving without a transition deal.

A no-deal Brexit risks bringing chaos at Britains borders with Ireland and France if the EU reimposes customs checks.

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