Post-Brexit trade deal ‘more likely than less likely’ – Taoiseach

Government still planning for no-deal scenario as EU negotiators make ‘final push’

Taoiseach Micheál Martin: ‘I would like to see it happening before Christmas, it could go beyond Christmas Day.’ Photograph: Julien Behal Photography/PA Wire

Taoiseach Micheál Martin: ‘I would like to see it happening before Christmas, it could go beyond Christmas Day.’ Photograph: Julien Behal Photography/PA Wire

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Taoiseach Micheál Martin said that a post-Brexit trade deal between the EU and the UK is “more likely than less likely” but that a deal on fishing is proving “very difficult” to overcome.

The Government is still planning for a no-deal scenario, according to Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney.

Mr Martin said a lot of progress had been made and that while difficulties remained, he believed a deal was likely, but said that it could take the period between Christmas and the new year to finalise.

“I would like to see it happening before Christmas, it could go beyond Christmas Day. There are political factors at play,” he said.

“There are a range of issues on the fishing issue, it’s not just the percentage share,” he said, referring to the EU’s offer to cede a share of its existing €650 million annual fishing rights in UK waters as part of an agreement.

“There’s a transition timeline, length of time for a transition period after the deal is done, so there are a number of ways of dealing with the issue,” he said at a briefing with reporters.

Asked if it was really worth blowing the deal over fisheries, Mr Martin said: “You might say that, if you’re living in Castletownbere or Killybegs you might have a different perspective on it.”

‘Annual acrimony’

Any agreement over fishing rights should not have an annual review which would lead to “annual acrimony”, he said.

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“So it’s not just about this year. Whatever happens this year could govern quotas for the next 10, 15, 20 years and that’s significant in terms of our fishing industry,” he said.

The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, said on Tuesday that negotiators were making a “final push” to reach a deal and that this was a “crucial moment” in the talks.

Mr Coveney told The Irish Times that he believed a trade deal had to be agreed before Christmas because the EU’s appetite for brinkmanship after that will “very limited”.

“Once we move beyond Christmas Day, the appetite on the EU side for brinkmanship, grandstanding and pressurising for concessions will be very limited,” he said.

This would allow legal mechanisms to be put in place to allow a deal take effect on January 1st.

“If the UK wants a deal, and certainly the EU want to deal, then the time to compromise to get that deal done is really in the next two or three days,” he said.

‘Gearing up’

Mr Coveney said he was still hoping for an agreement but that the Government was “gearing up for a no deal” and he had brought a memo to Cabinet on Tuesday on planning for this.

“We are planning for a no deal and putting all of the plans and infrastructure and resources in place to manage that as best we can and we will be as prepared as I believe the country can possibly be for a no deal,” he said.

“But that doesn’t mean that it won’t be disruptive and expensive, and the source of a lot of tension, should it happen.”

The EU has offered to give up 25 per cent of the €650 million worth of annual fishing rights in UK waters in a six-year transition period.

The UK wants a 35 per cent cut rising to 60 per cent if certain stocks are included in the calculations, over a shorter, three-year transition.

The Irish fishing industry has complained that even the 25 per cent cut would disproportionately affect the Irish mackerel catch and be the “death knell” for the industry.

Mr Coveney said that the Government wanted continued Irish fishing access to EU waters and a fair deal on burden-sharing for the Irish fishing fleet if it has to give up a disproportionate share of stocks.

“We are not going to be bought off here with a compensation fund. What we are interested in here is fish, and fishing opportunities,” he said.

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