Brexit talks enter difficult phase as Coveney says ‘we’re running out of time’

Two sides have until December to finalise agreement

Speaking on Sky News on Sunday, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said that the EU-UK Brexit negotiations could collapse over fishing rights. Video: Sky News

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has warned that this week is going to be the most difficult with regard to reaching a Brexit trade deal between the UK and the EU.

Talks on a future trading relationship between the UK and European Union post-Brexit continue this week, with the UK's negotiator David Frost in Brussels ahead of a European Council video summit on Thursday which has been touted as a deadline for a draft deal.

The UK formally left the European Union in January, but will continue to follow the bloc’s regulations until the end of the year — just over six weeks away.

If no agreement is in place at the end of December, goods travelling between the two parties will be subject to tariffs set out by the World Trade Organisation.


Mr Coveney said finalising a deal is going to be difficult, but it can be done.

The cost of a no trade deal would be significant and there were many sectoral areas on which agreement would be needed to function, he told RTÉ’s Morning Ireland.

“We’re running out of time. We have to get a deal this week.”

The issues which are still to be ironed out are thought to include the ongoing row over fishing rights, how any deal between the two parties would be governed, and the “level playing field” measures aimed at preventing unfair competition on issues including state subsidies.

Speaking ahead of the talks, which follow a similar round in London last week, Mr Frost said there had been progress in a “positive direction” in recent days.

However, he added the talks may not succeed and reiterated the point made by UK prime minister Boris Johnson that the country must be prepared for a departure with a deal or without.

Deadlines imposed on a future agreement have proven to be soft in the past, with Mr Johnson saying in September: “There needs to be an agreement with our European friends by the time of the European Council on October 15th if it’s going to be in force by the end of the year.

“If we can’t agree by then, then I do not see that there will be a free trade agreement between us, and we should both accept that and move on.”

The mid-October deadline appeared to be scratched at the start of that month, when Downing Street and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen agreed to intensify talks during a video conference call, acknowledging “significant gaps remained” between the UK and Brussels.

Any deal struck would be subject to ratification by EU member states, the European Parliament and the UK Parliament meaning time is tight.

The agenda for Thursday’s meeting of 27 European leaders does not mention Brexit, with the response to the Covid-19 pandemic instead taking centre stage.

But with only one other meeting — between December 10th and 11th — scheduled before the end date of the transition period, they could be seen as a key moment in the shaping of the UK’s departure.

- PA