Cabinet told Brexit talks came close to collapse

Simon Coveney warns that even with a deal Brexit will act as a drag on economic performance

 Simon Coveney warned the Cabinet  that the coming and going of recent days was not ‘choreography’. Photograph by Crispin Rodwell for the Irish Times

Simon Coveney warned the Cabinet that the coming and going of recent days was not ‘choreography’. Photograph by Crispin Rodwell for the Irish Times

 

The Cabinet was told that the Brexit talks came close to collapse on Monday when ministers were briefed on the prospects for a deal – and on preparations for the a no-deal on January 1.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney brought his Cabinet colleagues through a lengthy memo on Brexit issues at Tuesday morning’s meeting. He warned them, according to sources present, that the coming and going of recent days was not “choreography” but that there was a real problem, and that the Government needed to be braced for the impact of a no-deal outcome.

Mr Coveney briefed on the current state of the talks and also on the preparations for both a no-deal and a late agreement. However, ministers were warned that even if there is an agreement, it may be a “skinny deal” that will not avoid many of the downsides of a no-deal outcome.

Mr Coveney, sources said, warned that even with a deal Brexit will act as a drag on economic performance.

Significant disruption

Later in the Dáil, in response to calls for a debate on Brexit, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said “we have to alert the House to the fact that we could be very well discussing preparations for a no-deal Brexit. The situation is very serious.”

Mr Martin added that even if there is a deal traders were still facing significant disruption. He said there were 1.5 million customs declarations a year and this would rise to 20 million a year.

Asked for assurances on access to UK waters for Irish fishermen, Mr Martin said: “I cannot give such assurances right now, particularly if we are heading towards a no-deal scenario.”

While he welcomed the British moves to abandon the clauses in legislation which threatened to set aside parts of the Withdrawal Agreement, Mr Martin also warned that people should not “over-interpret” the UK moves as meaning that a deal on a trade agreement is now inevitable.

While he said the agreement announced on the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol in the Withdrawal Agreement and the decision of the UK government to withdraw the relevant clauses in domestic legislation was “positive and to be welcomed”, the agreement of a trade deal was “much more difficult and will be difficult to resolve”.

Biden administration

There is a fear in Irish Government circles that the British government may be retreating on the Northern Ireland issue in order to “box off” the incoming Biden administration in the US and pave the way for a no-deal outcome.

President-Elect Biden and senior Democrats have made clear that they will not agree a new trade deal between the US and the UK if the British government reneges on its commitments to facilitate an open Border in Ireland.

“We would all lose if there is no deal,” Mr Martin told the Dáil. “No deal would bring unacceptable disruption to ordinary people, workers and businesses. I have said this to all who have listened to me, including European negotiators, who are anxious to avoid a no-deal scenario, and the UK prime minister, when I have spoken to him.

“He knows my view that common sense should prevail. It is in everybody’s interests that we avoid a no-deal situation and get a deal that facilitates workers and gives clarity and certainty to businesses.”