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BBC host Justin Webb questioned why Ireland was not pressuring the EU to cave into the UK’s demands, given how much Ireland relies on UK trade. A furious row erupted between the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme presenter and the Irish Europe minister Thomas Byrne over the state of Brexit talks. Webb pointed out how much Ireland has “at stake” and explained why Ireland should be “putting pressure on the EU behind the scenes”.
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Webb said: “There is a view of course that you have such a lot at stake, your economy and your society, that you will behind the scenes put pressure on the European Union.
“The fact that you export an awful lot of goods to the EU through the UK – you don’t want to put that in jeopardy, do you?
“This would suggest that behind the scenes you will say to the EU, we have to find a way out of this.”
Mr Byrne rebuked this claim, saying: “We stand fully behind the EU, we support them, we are involved in them.
“Behind and in front of the scenes, we will give our full support to the EU negotiating team.”
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During a tense interview, the Irish Minister of State for European Affairs said the UK’s claim that their plans to rewrite key elements of the Brexit withdrawal agreement is to help the Good Friday Agreement was “completely false”.
Webb retorted: “What about the argument that this would allow the British Government to make changes that would make the future trading relationship work?
“There was too much left vague in the original agreement, and that it’s perfectly right for a sovereign country to sort that out, isn’t it?”
Mr Byrne said one can expect “moments of anguish and drama” during negotiations, but that the latest move taken by the UK is unacceptable.
He called the decision to rewrite the withdrawal agreement a “unilateral provocative act” from the British Government, taken “without any consultation with us”.
Mr Byrne urged the UK to rethink its decision and “withdraw these particular provisions”.
This prompted an immediate response from Webb, who said: “But they won’t, they absolutely won’t. Gove was clear about that.”
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Mr Byrne responded: “Well then it is completely unthinkable. What they propose to do is put at serious risk the basis of the peace on the island of Ireland.
“And the basis of our trade, and unfettered trade, cross border in goods which is absolutely essential for that peace.”
Yesterday, Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove – who co-chairs a joint committee on the withdrawal agreement – said the Government was not prepared to back down on the new plans.
Brexiteers have since piled pressure on Mr Johnson to stand firm against EU pressure, with Tory backbencher Steve Baker saying the UK should now “repudiate the whole treaty on the basis of the EU’s bad faith”.
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