Wednesday 14 November 2018

Fears Brexit talks won't make sufficient progress by October - Helen McEntee

Minister Helen McEntee at the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party Meeting
Minister Helen McEntee at the Fine Gael Parliamentary Party Meeting

Colm Kelpie

The Government has expressed fears that achieving sufficient progress in the Brexit talks by the October deadline won’t be possible.

 Minister of State for European Affairs Helen McEntee said making “decent progress” is about building confidence between the UK and EU.

 “We must deal with the past and lay the foundations of a trusting relationship before we can build the future,” Ms McEntee told a conference at Dublin City University, marking the inaugural event of DCU’s Brexit Institute.

 “But we are worried that, despite the best efforts of Michel Barnier and his team, it is looking increasingly likely that it will not be possible to declare sufficient progress by next month’s meeting.

 “There is still, of course, time to make more progress but that depends entirely on the UK and their willingness to negotiate in earnest and engage constructively across all the exit issues in the time available.”

 The UK is keen to move on to discuss the future relationship and the transition to it as soon as possible, arguing that all these issues are ultimately intertwined.

 The other 27 national leaders insist, however, that the divorce talks must show “sufficient progress” before they will negotiate a future trade deal.

 There are doubts about whether the two further rounds of talks scheduled before an EU summit on October 19/20 would produce enough progress to let leaders agree to launch negotiations on the post-Brexit relationship.

 Ms McEntee said good progress has been made on the Common Travel Area. She reiterated the position that the onus is on the UK to come up with solutions on the border.

 “A unique solution will be needed and the ball is in the UK’s court,” she said.

 Earlier in the conference, Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top, a veteran Labour Party politician, said the UK’s government was on a mad but dangerous path.

 “I think that the path that we’re going down is mad, but dangerous too,” she said.

 She said the rumour in Westminster is that in Prime Minister Theresa May’s speech next week in Florence, she will reiterate that the UK will leave the Single Market and Customs Union, but also rule out a European Economic Area (EEA) membership.

 “The gossip around Westminster is that that’s what Theresa May is going to rule out, membership of the EEA,” she said. “That reflects the division in the Tory party. The division is not around the political institutions. It is around free trade, and that goes way back in their history to the Corn Laws. So it is a very deep division in the Tory party.”

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