Brexit: Boris Johnson wants to strike deal, says Coveney

Tánaiste bucks pessimistic trend but accepts ‘real gaps’ exist on customs and consent

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney and the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, ahead of talks at the European Commission. Photograph: Stephanie Lecocq/EPA

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney and the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, ahead of talks at the European Commission. Photograph: Stephanie Lecocq/EPA

 

After a day when all too many were prepared to pronounce the Brexit talks dead, Simon Coveney on Tuesday night held out hope that they could still produce an agreement.

The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs said he believed UK prime minister Boris Johnson still wanted to do a deal.

“I don’t think things have reached an impasse, but there are certainly significant gaps to close and I think you’ll see ongoing discussions tomorrow and into Thursday,” Coveney said.

He was in Brussels on Tuesday night for a meeting with EU chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier.

Mr Coveney warned there were those in the UK determined to sabotage the talks. “I believe that the PM wants to find a way of doing a deal. He confirmed that again to the Taoiseach this evening on the phone and we believe him in that,” he said.

“We want to find a way of getting a deal too. But certainly there are some in the UK who seem to be planning for a general election ahead of trying to plan to get a deal.”

He would not get involved in the blame game, he said, but insisted “failure would be an extraordinary failure of politics”.

“We know the progress that was made in terms of prime minister Johnson in proposals last week, particularly on regulatory alignment for agri-food and goods. But the issue of customs and the issue of governance and consent to any new proposal is where the problem is, and there is a real gap there between the two negotiating teams and I think that’s where the discussion will focus,” he said.

Tusk tsk tsk

Earlier a clearly exasperated European Council president Donald Tusk posted on Twitter, in response to official and unofficial comments out of Downing Street, that “what’s at stake is not winning some stupid blame game. At stake is the future of Europe and the UK as well as the security and interests of our people. You don’t want a deal, you don’t want an extension, you don’t want to revoke, quo vadis [where are you going] Twitter that Mr Tusk “reflects the frustration across EU and the enormity of what’s at stake for us all. We remain open to finalise a fair Brexit deal but need a UK Govt willing to work with EU to get it done”.

Technical discussions continued in Brussels over the past two days, an attempt, European Commission sources said, to clarify the UK position ahead of formal negotiations. The UK is understood to have proposed minor changes in the way the regulatory and customs regimes would work through the Northern Ireland joint committee outlined in the EU-UK withdrawal agreement.

EU sources said the changes in no way affected or diminished the fundamental concerns about the UK proposals. On Tuesday the discussions were focused on VAT and excise controls and aspects of the political declaration.

A spokesman for the UK continued to insist that progress was taking place. “These talks are reaching a critical point. The UK has moved a long way and we need to see movement from the EU side. Today’s technical discussions are continuing to find a resolution ahead of the European Council,” he said.