Coveney: We have a week to do a Brexit trade deal with UK

Dáil hears competition issues, state aid and fishing still subject of ‘significant gaps’

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney: “If we don’t have a deal this time next week, I think we have problems.”  Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney: “If we don’t have a deal this time next week, I think we have problems.” Photograph: Gareth Chaney/Collins

 

There will be “problems” if negotiations on a post-Brexit trade deal between the European Union and the United Kingdom are not settled within the week, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said.

Saying that compromise would be necessary, Mr Coveney told a European Movement Ireland event that sealing an agreement would be “very difficult” but was “doable” despite there being “significant gaps” between the parties on competition issues, state aid and fisheries.

“If we don’t have a deal this time next week, I think we have problems,” he said.

The Minister later told the Dáil that “a deal cannot be done at any price”.

“There must be a level playing field supporting open and fair competition for our businesses and a fair and balanced outcome on fisheries, which is a particularly sensitive issue for a number of member states, including Ireland.”

Speaking as he introduced legislation aimed at lessening the impact of Brexit, including measures to safeguard the Irish-UK Common Travel Area, Mr Coveney said the aim was to ensure the closest possible relationship between the EU and the UK after Brexit.

The Withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union (Consequential Provisions) Bill continues existing Irish-UK healthcare co-operation. A memorandum of understanding is being finalised.

Student reciprocity

Students will be able to study in each other’s state because Susi (Student Universal Support Ireland) grants will be paid to eligible students studying in the UK, as well as to UK students attending college in Ireland.

Social welfare rules will ensure that eligible people will continue to receive benefits. Divorces, legal separations and marriage annulments granted in the UK or Gibraltar will continue to be recognised.

Meanwhile, the so-called “omnibus” legislation ensures that UK citizens living in the State continue to access the national childcare scheme on the same basis as Irish citizens.

The withdrawal agreement and the now-contested protocol on Northern Ireland dealt with many of the issues, the Minister said, but many of the provisions in last year’s Act were not commenced then.

“The UK will also be aware that a future partnership agreement will only be possible if the withdrawal agreement, which it signed and ratified less than a year ago, is fully implemented.”

Food supplies

Meanwhile, Mr Coveney told the European Movement Ireland that concerns about disruptions to food supplies from Britain post-Brexit are not just a problem for Northern Ireland but “an issue for the island as a whole”.

Hoping for “pragmatism” to ensure supplies could continue while protecting the Brexit border deal and the integrity of the EU single market, Mr Coveney said UK multiples are important in the Republic, as well as Northern Ireland.

Earlier this week, Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill warned that EU health checks could threaten food supplies to Northern Ireland after January 1st.

He said the EU and UK were trying to implement the Northern Ireland protocol in the Brexit withdrawal agreement to avoid a hard border in Ireland while adhering to EU border checks on goods coming across the Irish Sea.

He said the Irish Government recognised that it was a “genuine issue” for trade across the Irish Sea but that it was not being used as a “negotiating lever” in EU-UK talks on a trade deal.