Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said he is hopeful of a Brexit deal being agreed between the United Kingdom and the European Union as long as the two sides remain in talks.
Negotiations between the UK and the EU are to continue past the deadline set for Sunday to try to reach an agreement to avoid a damaging shift to default trade terms in three weeks time.
“I do not underestimate the difficulties and challenges that face both sets of negotiators but in my view where there is a will there is a way,” Mr Martin told reporters at an event in Cork on Sunday evening. “It is very important that they do everything they can to get a deal over the line.”
He added: “The next number of days are very, very important to resolving the issues around the level playing field, the dispute resolution mechanism and fisheries.”
Earlier, British prime minister Boris Johnson and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said they would go the extra mile in an attempt to reach a deal.
“Despite the exhaustion after almost a year of negotiations, despite the fact that deadlines have been missed over and over we think it is responsible at this point to go the extra mile,” they said in a joint statement.
“We have accordingly mandated our negotiators to continue the talks and to see whether an agreement can even at this late stage be reached.”
It followed a phone call between Mr Johnson and Ms von der Leyen to discuss the state of talks. Both sides had indicated that Sunday would be decisive, with time running out to secure and implement an agreement before January 1st.
A failure to reach a deal is forecast to cause widespread disruption on trade between the UK and the EU, with damage to Ireland’s economy that is secondary only to the impact on Britain itself.
British foreign secretary Dominic Raab had said the disagreements preventing a deal were how to agree on access to British fishing waters and how to create a so-called “level playing field” to ensure fair competition between companies.
He insisted that a political decision to alter negotiators’ red lines was the only thing that could unlock progress.
“What ultimately is required at this eleventh hour of the negotiation is moving the political logjam. That can only happen at the level of the prime minister and Commissioner von der Leyen,” Mr Raab said.
Many European capitals have grown pessimistic as to the prospects of a deal, and the European Commission this week launched contingency plans to keep planes flying and trucks driving through the Channel Tunnel, needed because a failure to reach an agreement would mean existing legal arrangements would disolve overnight.
In an interview on Sky News, Spanish foreign minister Arancha González Laya, who is a former chief of the International Trade Centre, insisted that British sovereignty was not in question in the talks.
“I’ve done many trade agreements in my life, and trade agreements are not made to assert one’s independence. They are made to manage our interdependence,” González Laya said.
“This trade deal that we are building post-Brexit is not to assert country’s sovereignty, trade deals are not made to do that. It’s pretty clear when you do a trade deal you are a sovereign nation.”
Late night talks
Mr Johnson and Ms von der Leyen spoke by phone on Sunday to decide whether to continue negotiations to reach a trade deal and avoid a damaging shift to default terms.
The talks remain difficult, a British source said on Saturday, as the two sides sought a way to reconcile EU demands for guarantees of comparable standards in the UK in exchange for free single market access, with London’s desire for autonomy to diverge.
Talks ran late into the night between the teams of Michel Barnier and David Frost in Brussels on Saturday and will now continue.
Britain's transition period, during which it has largely kept the same terms temporarily since leaving the bloc in January, is due to end on December 31st and without a deal default World Trade Organisation terms will take effect including steep tariffs on some goods.
Both sides have previously said that a failure to reach a deal is now a more likely outcome than not, a result forecast to shrink Britain’s economy and damage Irish exporters in particular, while causing widespread disruption.
Negotiators have long struggled to reach an accord on the three sticking points of governance, fishing rights, and the so-called level playing field, with the question of how to ensure fair competition in the future emerging as the biggest stumbling bloc as the talks reach their finale.
Earlier on Saturday, the confirmation from the British ministry of defence that four royal navy gunboats have been placed on standby to guard British waters from EU trawlers if there is no agreement was greeted with anger by some senior Tories.