‘Good chance’ Brexit deal can be reached in next few days, Coveney says

EU warns UK deal must be reached by tomorrow; talks stuck on fisheries

Simon Coveney has warned that reports  the British government was preparing a second piece of legislation could breach the withdrawal agreement. Photograph: Crispin Rodwell/The Irish Times

Simon Coveney has warned that reports the British government was preparing a second piece of legislation could breach the withdrawal agreement. Photograph: Crispin Rodwell/The Irish Times

 

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said that while the UK does not always behave like it wants a Brexit trade deal, he believes that the British government does want a deal to be agreed.

Concluding such complex negotiations was “never going to be easy” he told Newstalk Breakfast on Thursday. But he was confident that there was “a good chance we can get a deal across the line in the next few days.”

The EU and British government are locked in intense talks in London to try to avoid a sudden imposition of tariffs on trade that would devastate Irish exporters in just a few weeks time.

Mr Coveney said that the Irish and French positions on Brexit were “very much in sync with each other” and he had high praise for the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier for doing “a phenomenal job” in the negotiations.

“The implications of essentially no deal, in the hope that we find of a way of getting a deal done at some point in 2021, means we move into a period of significant disruption, cost, stress, tension, and political blame games between London and Brussels, ” he added.

“From an Irish perspective, we get caught in the crossfires there. There is no guarantee that in the absence of a future relationship agreement now - that we will be able to get a future relationship agreement in place at some point in the first half of next year. That’s a very dangerous assumption.”

Mr Coveney also warned that reports that the British government was preparing a second piece of legislation could breach the withdrawal agreement.

Meanwhile, there must be a breakthrough in talks by Friday or there may be no way to avoid massive trade disruption on January 1st, the European Union has told Britain.

It comes amid a warning from EU capitals that a deal must not give too much away.

With mounting pressure from businesses and governments to know what they must plan for at the end of the month, Mr Barnier warned his British counterpart David Frost that unless a breakthrough was made by Friday the EU may run out of time to ratify a deal.

Any agreement must be passed in the European Parliament, and a failure to allow enough time would mean the “massive disruption” of no deal terms for as long as it took for the deal to be ratified, a source close to the talks said.

Fishing rights

Talks remain stuck on fisheries, with each side only willing to cede 20 per cent of current stocks to the other, according to a source briefed on the talks and Britain insisting access should be decided in annual negotiations. A proposal to review the agreement, including fish quotas, in five or 10 years time has been discussed as a possible way to allow the EU to accept a tough compromise in the medium term.

On RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland, the chief executive of the Irish South & West Fish Producers Organisation Patrick Murphy called for measures to be put in place to protect the Irish fishing industry.

Mr Murphy said that the Irish fishing community had been decimated in the past decade with a 42 per cent reduction in boats. “We have seen the industry being wiped out.”

Fishing boats go where the fish are, he said, and his fear was that if the fleet had to move out of UK waters, then fishing boats from other countries would come into Irish waters. “We will lose our fishing fleet.”

A point of concern for EU observers is a lack of clarity on how future disputes could be resolved, such as if Britain broke commitments on common standards, with faith undermined by Downing Street’s attempts to override parts of the withdrawal agreement through domestic legislation.

Bernd Lange, a German MEP who chairs the European Parliament’s trade committee and was briefed by Mr Barnier on Wednesday as a member of its UK coordination group, said that he was less optimistic a deal could be reached than at the start of the week, and that with the facts he had at hand a no deal seemed the better outcome.

“To be open and frank, I’m really upset about the procedure. There is no possibility for the European Parliament, member states as well, to have a proper scrutiny of the agreement. This is really really going from tragedy to farce and this is really quite unique in the history of trade agreements in the European Union,” Mr Lange said. “This really the end game, and that’s also clear for the British side.”

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