Coveney denies United Ireland referendum bids as he vows to ‘pay’ for EU shackles to go on
Simon Coveney assesses chances of a United Ireland referendum
The Irish politician was confronted by BBC Radio 4 Today’s host Martha Kearney over the possibility his Government will call for a United Ireland referendum in 2021 as Northern Ireland remains compliant with some EU rules post-Brexit. But Mr Coveney denied the claim, adding: “I think they are a very practical response to the fact that many people in Northern Ireland considered themselves as Irish as I do.
“And many people in Northern Ireland consider themselves British also.
“Under the Good Friday Agreement there can’t be discrimination based on anybody’s background or political perspective, so we have always committed to people in Northern Ireland that post-Brexit we would ensure that many of the privileges that come with EU membership in terms of being able to study across the European Union or being able to travel and be covered by a European health insurance – that those privileges would be extended to people in Northern Ireland.
“The Irish Government has said that we would pay for it if necessary and that’s what we’re going to do.
“What we’re trying to do is create as much normality as possible and of course now my focus and the focus of the Irish Government will be trying to build a strong and positive and new relationship between Ireland and the United Kingdom in a post-Brexit era, which will be different but could still be very positive.”
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The UK’s membership of the single market and customs union expired at 11pm – four and a half years after the in-out referendum which sought to settle the issue but sparked political turmoil.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the EU had provided the UK with a “safe European home” during the 1970s, but the country has now “changed out of all recognition” with global perspectives.
His Christmas Eve deal with Brussels, which comes into effect immediately, allows for the continuation of tariff-free trade with the EU single market – though businesses and individuals will have to follow new rules.
The UK has reached several agreements with non-EU countries – such as Japan – to ensure continuity of trading arrangements for British companies from January 1.
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Mr Johnson, writing in the Daily Telegraph, said the “great new deal” honoured the “most basic promises” of the 2016 referendum, and added that the UK has “taken back control of our money, our laws and our waters”.
“And yet it is also the essence of this treaty that it provides certainty for UK business and industry, because it means that we can continue to trade freely – with zero tariffs and zero quotas – with the EU.”
Under the new arrangements, freedom of movement rights will end, and while UK citizens will still be able to travel for work or pleasure, there will be different rules.
Passports must be valid for more than six months, visas or permits may be needed for long stays, pets will need a health certificate and drivers will need extra documents.
The automatic right to live and work in the EU also ceases, and the UK will no longer take part in the Erasmus student exchange programme.
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Hauliers will face new rules, and lorry drivers heading for the Port of Dover will have to ensure they have a Kent Access Permit before entering the county on their way to the border.
Travel to Ireland will not change, but the Northern Ireland Protocol governing trade between Great Britain and the region entered into effect at 11pm.
It means Northern Ireland will remain in the EU single market for goods, and will apply EU customs rules at its ports, even though the region is still part of the UK customs territory.
The protocol will also see Northern Ireland follow certain EU rules on state aid and VAT on goods.
Gibraltar, whose sovereignty is disputed by Spain and Britain, will remain subject to the rules of the free-travel Schengen area, keeping the border with Spain open.
Government officials insisted the necessary border systems and infrastructure in the UK are in place, and they are ready for the “new start”.
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