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No-deal Brexit 'last thing we need' after Covid-19, admits Coveney as he backs EU stance

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Row: Simon Coveney said fishing rights were an issue. Photo: Douglas O’Connor

Row: Simon Coveney said fishing rights were an issue. Photo: Douglas O’Connor

Row: Simon Coveney said fishing rights were an issue. Photo: Douglas O’Connor

Brexit talks will be in "real difficulty" until the British government changes its approach, Tánaiste Simon Coveney has warned.

Mr Coveney said the latest round of Brexit negotiations have not gone well and there's still a risk of the transition period expiring at the end of the year without a trade deal.

He said this scenario is "the last thing we need on top of the economic pressures on the back of Covid-19".

The Foreign Affairs Minister was speaking as UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson's government insists the Brexit transition period will end on December 31 with or without a trade deal.

London and Brussels have clashed as the UK appeared to row back on commitments to a "level playing field" for trade.

There's also a looming row on fishing rights.

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Briefing: European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen. Photo: REUTERS

Briefing: European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen. Photo: REUTERS

REUTERS

Briefing: European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen. Photo: REUTERS

Senior British minister Michael Gove has claimed the EU wants the UK to follows its rule "even though we've left the club" while at the same time seeking continuing fishing rights in their waters.

Mr Coveney was asked about the prospect there may be no trade deal on RTÉ's 'The Week in Politics'. He replied: "It certainly is a risk, that's for sure."

He accused the UK of "essentially rewriting what was committed to previously in the political declaration that was signed off along with the Withdrawal Agreement".

Mr Coveney said both sides wanted to find a way to allow tariff and quota-free trade between the UK and EU and that was why a common rule-book was agreed "to make sure the UK wasn't creating competitive advantage for itself".

EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier was insisting on there being a "level playing field" so both sides operate to the same standards and cost base.

Mr Coveney said it was also clear in the political declaration the British side agreed fisheries would be part of that overall trade deal. The Tánaiste said Mr Barnier is now following through on commitments that have already been made.

He added "better progress" is being made in the protocols involving Ireland and the British government has accepted there needs to be checks on goods coming from Britain to Northern Ireland.

But Mr Coveney warned of a "second wave" of economic pressure following the coronavirus emergency.

Failure to agree would lead to quotas and tariffs "particularly on products Ireland exports an awful lot of to the UK".

Mr Coveney said this is another moment in Brexit "where there's a lot of tension" and a way must be found that works for both sides.

He also warned: "Until the UK changes its approach in the context of giving the EU reassurance they're not going to effectively deregulate their economy while expecting free access into the EU single market. I think that we're going to continue to be in real difficulty in these talks."

Separately, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar expressed his support for a coordinated approach at EU level to lifting coronavirus restrictions on travel when he spoke to Commission President Ursula von der Leyen by phone.

He briefed her on the "careful, gradual steps" Ireland is taking to reopen its economy from the coronavirus lockdown.

Ms Von der Leyen outlined her views on an EU recovery fund, and on how the union's budget can be mobilised to support sectors and regions "to build a greener, more resilient economy".

A Government statement said Mr Varadkar "stressed the vital role the agriculture sector can play in this, and the importance of a properly funded CAP [Common Agriculture Policy]".

Irish Independent