EU member states believe UK does not want a deal, says Coveney

Minister has ‘reassured’ counterparts UK wants deal despite ‘strange’ recent behaviour

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney, German minister of foreign affairs Heiko Maas, right, and European High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell. Photograph: Olivier Hoslet/Pool/EPA

National governments around the European Union increasingly believe that London does not want to reach a deal with the EU that would prevent a crash exit on January 1st, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said.

He was speaking after meeting with the 26 other foreign ministers of the bloc and with the EU's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, in Brussels.

“What has been concerning over the last few days to me speaking to other EU foreign ministers is that there’s a growing sense that perhaps the UK doesn’t want a deal and that this is more about managing the blame game as negotiations fail,” Mr Coveney told reporters.

“I have reassured them very clearly that in my view that is not the case, that the prime minister and the British government do want a deal, though they are behaving in a strange way to get that deal done in terms of the legislation going through Westminster at the moment.”


He spoke in reference to legislation introduced by the British government that would give it the power to over-ride aspects of the withdrawal agreement signed last year, which sought to avoid the need for Border checks on the island of Ireland.

"Many people are pretty shocked by what the British government are doing because many people see the United Kingdom in many ways as a standard-bearer of international law," Mr Coveney said.

“Of course if the legislation continues, there will be a legal response from the European Union, I expect, in terms of the breaching of an international treaty. But I don’t think we should focus on legal challenges, quite frankly, I think we should be focused on outstanding issues in this negotiation so that we can try to get a deal both sides can live with.”

London meeting

The lead negotiators, Mr Barnier and David Frost for the UK, are to meet in London on Wednesday, while the committee overseeing the implementation of the withdrawal agreement is set to meet next week as a new round of talks begins.

The European Commission's representative on the joint committee, Maros Sefcovic, said the EU was "studying very carefully all the legal actions we have" if Britain persisted in breaking the agreement signed last year, but that his first priority was to insist on the implementation of the deal.

“It protects and really puts in a very important position the fulfilment and respect of the Good Friday agreement, which means peace and stability on the island of Ireland, and therefore we cannot accept that this issue would suddenly become a political bargaining chip,” Mr Sefcovic told reporters.

"We will never accept any unilateral move to change, disregard or disapply the withdrawal agreement and we will be discussing all these issues with Michael Gove. "

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary

Naomi O’Leary is Europe Correspondent of The Irish Times