Brexit: Coveney sounds note of caution over chances of deal

Two sides under ‘huge pressure’ to clinch agreement, with key issues unresolved

Simon Coveney: ‘We just don’t know yet whether the British prime minister has made the decision to instruct his chief negotiator to close this deal out.’ Photograph: Julien Behal

Simon Coveney: ‘We just don’t know yet whether the British prime minister has made the decision to instruct his chief negotiator to close this deal out.’ Photograph: Julien Behal

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There is no certainty a post-Brexit trade deal can be agreed despite progress this week in negotiations between the European Union and UK, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has warned.

Mr Coveney said although a lot of legal text had been agreed between the two sides, the outstanding issues would be the most difficult to resolve.

There is now “huge pressure on both negotiating teams to find a way of closing this out over the next week or so,” he said. “This process needs to move towards conclusion, certainly in the next week to 10 days, and I think everybody realises that now.”

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said on Friday that there had been “better progress” and “more movement on important files” as the EU sounded a more upbeat assessment of talks.

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However, Mr Coveney said that it had also been made clear to EU member states that “there’s no certainty around the deal, either from a time point of view, or whether a deal will be concluded”.

“It is true that a lot of text has been agreed. Like with any deal, the last 5 or 10 per cent of the text is the difficult stuff. Some of the issues that that have prevented agreement for the last number of months are still without agreement.”

Sticking points

The outstanding issues involve ensuring a level playing field after Brexit, finding a mechanism to deal with disputes, and in relation to fisheries.

“We need something real on fair competition and a level playing field. We need a governance model that’s credible, that can deal with disputes if and when they arise. And we need a deal on fish.

“There’s no way that the EU side or an Irish government is going to sell out our fishing industry, and the UK is saying the same, and that’s understandable.

“Trying to find a way of getting a deal on fish that both sides feel that they can accept and live with can only happen in the context of getting agreement in other areas as well.”

Mr Coveney said the EU was not certain that the UK was ready for a deal. “To be honest we just don’t know yet whether the British prime minister has made the decision to instruct his chief negotiator to close this deal out,” he said. “Or whether they are still in the space of trying to test the EU to see what flexibilities they can get and what compromises are possible. That is a political decision for Boris Johnson. ”

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