Governments across the EU are not hopeful a Brexit agreement can be done – and Ireland must prepare for a no-deal outcome, the Taoiseach has warned.
Speaking at the final day of an EU leaders’ summit in Brussels, Micheál Martin was asked if he shared the view of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson that a no-deal Brexit conclusion was “looking very, very likely”.
The Taoiseach said this was the prevailing mood shared across most member states. “People recognise the enormous challenges that remain now in terms of pulling off a deal, suffice to say that people feel and believe across the member states that this is going to be a very challenging task,” he told reporters.
Earlier, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told the meeting that no agreement was now more probable than the likelihood of achieving a deal. Talks are continuing between the EU and UK and a new deadline of tomorrow has been signalled.
Mr Johnson said a no-deal was “looking very, very likely” and he said Britain can manage well in such an eventuality.
“If there’s a big offer, a big change in what they are saying, then I must say I have yet to see it,” he told reporters in the north of England.
But despite the despondency, the Taoiseach said unexpected breakthroughs were achieved on the issue in the past and this could happen in the coming days if the will to compromise prevailed.
“Fundamentally, we want a deal, we want an agreement, we believe that’s in the best interests of all concerned,” Mr Martin said.
He pointed to the achievement cementing the Northern Ireland protocol, which now guarantees the North’s special trade status irrespective of any deal.
And Mr Martin welcomed the agreement brokered by German Chancellor Angela Merkel which unblocked an effective veto by Poland and Hungary on EU spending worth a record €1.8tn. The Taoiseach said this funding, which includes €750bn in Covid-19 economic recovery measures, will benefit Ireland and other member states.
Mr Martin also noted that the EU had also set aside €5bn in special supports for sectors worst hit by Brexit. He looked forward to Ireland sharing in this funding and he expected share-out proposals from the EU Commission as early as next week.
He also noted the no-deal contingency plans published by the European Union on Thursday to ensure aviation and other travel continued.
The Irish Government is now engaged in similar planning with Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Charlie McConalogue working on plans for those sectors and other ministers doing likewise.
Mr Martin said the Budget for 2021 was drafted on the assumption of a no-deal end to Brexit. “We don’t want a no-deal outcome but we have to prepare for it. And it would be a further hit on the economy on top of Covid-19,” he said.
He said the Brexit talks were still deadlocked on the issue of fisheries – but a compromise can be found. Equally, the deadlock over fair competition can be managed by compromise.
“There has to be a will and a political will to make that happen,” Mr Martin insisted.