‘Unfortunate’ beef war talk ‘not coming from UK government’ – Coveney

Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Simon Coveney has moved to quash “unfortunate headlines” and talk of beef trade wars, noting that such messages are not coming from the UK government.

Speaking in the Dail yesterday, the Tanaiste responded to questions from Fianna Fail Brexit spokesperson Lisa Chambers relating to pressure coming from the UK on vulnerabilities and exposure in the beef sector.

“There were some unfortunate headlines in the Irish media last week around trade wars on beef and using that sector as a way of putting pressure on the Irish.

In response to those headlines, I got a call from my counterpart, the Minister for the Cabinet Office, David Lidington, MP, who was concerned about them and made it clear to me that they were not coming from the British government.

“I believe him. My relationship with him is good and we talk to each other in a very blunt and honest manner about all of these things.

“However, that is not to say that there are not elements within the Westminster system that are frustrated that they cannot get over this issue of the backstop and want to see some pressure being applied to Ireland.”

Coveney made the point that similar comments have been made in Ireland about putting pressure on the system in Westminster to get a deal done.

That is the nature of politics when there is an impasse – but trying to put Ireland under pressure in terms of beef is not a tactic or official position being adopted by the British government. It is a big issue, but one that we want to resolve together.

Turning to the topic of using the UK landbridge for exports to Europe, the Tanaiste said:

“In the Port of Dover, while we discuss these issues with the UK and the EU, we do not control all of the levers.

“That is the truth. Similarly, the British government does not control what we do at Dublin Port or Rosslare.

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“We continue to advocate to try to ensure that the landbridge remains a viable option for bringing goods to and from our market.”

State aid

In terms of what the Irish Government was doing to support agriculture and agri-business, Coveney referenced last week’s state-aid announcement for Carbery Group.

“The response for vulnerable sectors in terms of support, aid and flexibility for Ireland in how we use state aid is already under way.

“Consider the package that has been put in place between Enterprise Ireland and the Carbery Group.

A significant financial package that supports the Carbery Group in diversifying away from an over-reliance on the UK market has already been signed off on and put in place.

“Regarding the broader vulnerability of, for example, the beef industry and the agrifood sector in general, there is ongoing discussion between the European Commission, in particular Commissioner Hogan, and the Government on examining the most appropriate ways to support and sustain those through a transition, even a semi-chaotic one resulting from a no-deal Brexit.

“I do not believe that the European Commission or the Government will be found wanting in that scenario,” the Tanaiste said.