Brexit talks making progress on Irish issues, says Coveney

Minister plays down talk of deadlock in Brussels talks between EU and UK government

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney stressed inroads had been made on Irish issues on Friday as he moved to play down the lack of progress in Brexit negotiations.

The latest round of talks closed in Brussels on Thursday with no sign of the progress hoped for by the British after prime minister Theresa May's speech in Florence. However, Mr Coveney was keen to highlight the positives when questioned before attending a Cabinet meeting in Cork this morning.

"I don't think the talks are deadlocked and even though the talks were difficult this week there was progress – for example, on Ireland there was about an hour set aside for specific discussions around Ireland this week and they made good progress on the Common Travel Area," he said.

Mr Coveney said there had been movement towards agreeing the text of the principle governing the Common Travel Area between Ireland and the UK.


He pointed out that nobody was expecting agreement on the three areas in Phase 1 of the talks, the rights of EU citizens in the UK, Irish issues and Britain’s financial settlement with the EU, to be finalised before talks moved on to future arrangements between the EU and the UK.

"Certainly at the moment in my view, there isn't a package that would allow Michel Barnier to recommend to heads of state at this stage that we should now be moving on to the starting Phase 2 discussions in parallel with trying to finish out Phase 1.

“Nobody is expecting all of the Phase 1 issues will be solved in their entirety in Phase 1 but we do need sufficient and measurable and clear progress on those issues before we can recommend to the heads of state moving on to Phase 2, which is talking about future relationships.”

Despite movement on the Common Travel Area, Mr Coveney again urged caution given the lack of comparable progress on issues such as the implementation of the Belfast Agreement and the Border.

“How do we fulfil the commitment that all sides have signed up to for the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement in all of its facets in the context of North-South relationships and the functioning of the island of Ireland and its relationship with Britain?”

The British government’s statements on the Border were consistent with the Government’s desire for no return to any physical Border according to the Minister but there was no roadmap yet on how that might be achieved.

Worst case scenario

He said the Government was planning for a worse case scenario as evidenced by the fact that Tuesday’s budget had seen an increase in funding for departments such as Agriculture, Jobs and Foreign Affairs to help Irish companies diversify into new markets outside the UK.

However, the Government’s focus remained very much on achieving a political solution which would avoid a hard Brexit and it was working closely with the EU negotiating team in Brussels to achieve that outcome.

Asked if he feared the slow rate of progress in the talks might lead to impatience in the Conservative Party which could embolden some to push for a hard Brexit, Mr Coveney said that was ultimately was a matter for Theresa May but the sooner a deal was done, the better for everyone.

“I suspect there will be a lot of continuing debate within the Tory party and within the British cabinet – that is a matter for the prime minister to manage. Everybody is impatient here. In fact, Ireland has more of an entitlement to be impatient here than anyone else,” he said.

"We are trying to manage something that is not of our making here – we are trying to be part of a negotiation that can get an outcome here that Britain can live with and that the European Union can live with but that protects Irish interests."

“There are a lot of businesses relying on the relationship between Ireland and Britain for their jobs, for their incomes and for their profits. Lots of businesses have already been severely impacted by the changes in the value of sterling because of Brexit and the uncertainty that comes from it.

"There are a lot of people here, who are impatient, and that is why there is a huge onus on the British government and on the EU negotiating team, which includes the Irish Government, to be mature about this and to find a way forward."

Barry Roche

Barry Roche

Barry Roche is Southern Correspondent of The Irish Times