A Brexit trade deal can still be made, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said, but he warns that a decision must be reached "in a matter of days now".
In a joint statement on Sunday, British prime minister Boris Johnson and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said talks would continue past the Sunday deadline and would “go the extra mile” in an attempt to avoid a damaging shift to default trade terms in three weeks’ time.
“We have accordingly mandated our negotiators to continue the talks and to see whether an agreement can even at this late stage be reached,” the statement said.
Speaking on This Week on RTÉ Radio One, Mr Coveney said he was not surprised negotiations were continuing.
“As long as there is a possibility of getting a deal done, that puts the future relationship agreement in place, and, of course, as part of that, a trade agreement in place that avoids tariffs and quotas,” he said.
“ I’m not surprised they’ve continued, even at this late stage when there’s less than three weeks to go until the end of the year.”
Mr Coveney said he believes both sides want a deal and there are very experienced negotiating teams “working night and day” to reach an agreement.
“I think that the fact that they had a joint statement today as well is a sign that they are working to try and find a way forward together, which is essentially how this is going to be done,” he added.
“It’s not going to be done simply as one side outmanoeuvring the other with a clear winner and a clear loser. The only way we get a deal here that both sides can live with is if both negotiating teams understand the real and genuine problems of the other side and try to resolve them through a legal text.”
However, Mr Coveney warned that “time is running out” to reach an agreement.
“I think this is really a matter of days now because if this is to fail, we can’t allow failure to happen with 24 hours to go before a cliff edge.”
He said preparations have been made for a no-deal Brexit, but despite that, it would be “much more destructive than otherwise necessary” if there isn’t a trade deal and future relationship agreement.
“ But we certainly don’t want to see that announcement 24 hours before it happens and that’s why I think there will be huge pressure now on the negotiating teams this week to try and close this out.”
Earlier Taoiseach Micheál Martin said some degree of creativity between British and European Union negotiators can deliver agreement on the "level playing field", one of the major sticking points in their post-Brexit trade talks.
"The level playing field area is one that has bedeviled the talks from the outset. In my view, with some degree of creativity, a resolution can be found in that area," Mr Martin told BBC television.
Mr Martin said he fervently hoped the talks would go on beyond Sunday in search of a deal and that a failure to reach an accord would be an “appalling failure of statecraft” on both sides.
He said it would be a failure of statecraft if they were to end without agreement after 97 per cent of issues had already been agreed.
Mr Martin told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show: "Where the dialogue continues, that gives me hope."
He said their agreement around implementing the Northern Ireland Protocol last week showed their ability to strike another on the substantive issues of a level playing field and fisheries.
He said there was still room to resolve outstanding issues between the two “inter-dependent” partners.
He added: “It is vital that we do not have an acrimonious break-up because that would be very damaging.”
He said it was important to agree frameworks for issues like the level playing field, adding: “With some degree of creativity a resolution can be found in that area.” He said access to the European market was important to Britain.
“A resolution mechanism to resolve any future disputes is one that both sides, with a bit of creativity, can sign up to,” he said.
“Ninety-seven percent of this deal has been negotiated. “The remaining 3 per cent should not be beyond the capacity of both sides to bridge. “That is why it is so important that dialogue continues.” - additional reporting PA, Reuters