Brexit deal may require special November summit, Coveney claims

Tánaiste says UK is to provide a backstop proposal as he launches budget measures

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney during a press briefing on Brexit as part of Budget 2019, in Government Buildings, Dublin. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney during a press briefing on Brexit as part of Budget 2019, in Government Buildings, Dublin. Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

A special EU summit will likely be needed next month to strike a deal to avoid a hard Border and agree a Brexit withdrawal agreement, Tánaiste Simon Coveney has said.

Speaking at the launch of a suite of Budget 2019 measures to prepare for Brexit, Mr Coveney, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, said the UK was expected to introduce a text on their proposal for the so-called backstop guarantee to maintain an open Border shortly but that this was unlikely to be published.

He said he recognised that businesses were unsure about how to invest to prepare for the fallout from the UK’s withdrawal from the EU in March 2019 and want “a bit more certainty from the negotiations”.

“I hope that they will get that over the next six weeks or so,” he said, referring to the EU-UK negotiations this week which he sees continuing until a special Brexit summit in Brussels in mid-November.

Against the backdrop of deadlocked Brexit negotiations, the Government announced measures in the budget worth more than €770 million, including loans for business, supports for the Border and customs training, to prepare for Brexit. This is on top of a new €2 billion “rainy day fund” that could be tapped post-Brexit.

“I hope that we negotiate a Brexit that doesn’t require us to dip into the rainy day fund at all and I am pretty confident that we can do that,” Mr Coveney told reporters at a post-budget press conference.

‘Brexit-readiness’

The Tánaiste detailed the “Brexit-readiness” measures from Budget 2019 alongside Minister for Business Heather Humphreys, Minister for Agriculture Michael Creed and Minister of State for European Affairs Helen McEntee.

Podcast: Budget 2019

The measures include a new €300 million “Future Growth” scheme through which businesses can apply for eight- to 10-year loans of up to €3 million, including unsecured loans of up to €500,000, and educational spending of €300 million to train people in areas vulnerable to Brexit.

Mr Creed announced a total of €78 million in Brexit-related funding for agriculture, including for beef farmers, horticulture (where the mushroom industry is particularly affected by Brexit) and Bord Bia.

There is also €5 million being provided for customs training for local businesses, €13 million for customs and IT staff for Revenue and animal health and agricultural inspectors for post-Brexit Anglo-Irish trade.

“The irony of all this by the way, is that we are going to be investing a lot of money in a whole series of things that we hope will be wasted money because we hope that we will be able to negotiate an outcome [to Brexit] that of course doesn’t require a lot of these checks of infrastructure in future,” said Mr Coveney.

He described next week as “a big week” in Brexit negotiations and said he hoped enough progress will have been made for the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier to recommend a November meeting on the issue at next week’s EU summit.

“I suspect November will probably be needed as well as October to get agreement on that,” he said.

Backstop text

He said he anticipated that the legal text the UK would introduce on the backstop – the last-resort option to avoid a hard Border should a future EU-UK trade deal not produce a better solution – would be kept private amongst EU-UK negotiators.

“It is unlikely that anyone is going to publish that text. I think when text gets introduced, it will be introduced in the negotiating rooms of Brussels, where both teams will want to try negotiate a position that can be supported by both sides,” he said.

Mr Coveney said there would be “carnage”, particularly for Britain, if the UK crashed out of the EU without a deal, but he added that this scenario was “very unlikely” because there was no majority for it in Westminster.

The Tánaiste said that the negotiations were at “a very crucial point” and described the intensification in talks this week as “a good thing”, but added that they were “far from complete”.

This was why the Government was announcing preparations for Brexit and spending hundreds of millions of euro on the issue in next year’s budget as the negotiations continued.

“There is an expectation that the UK side will introduce some legal text which I hope can be helpful in moving this process forward,” he said.

“Whether or not that can be the basis of a significant step forward between now and the [EU] Council meeting next week we simply don’t know.”