Wednesday 21 November 2018

'We're not quite where we need to be' - no breakthrough on border ahead of crunch EU meeting

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney
Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney Newsdesk Newsdesk

There is still no breakthrough on the Irish border issue ahead of a crunch EU meeting on Brexit later today.

Tanaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said an agreement on the Irish border that would allow Brexit talks to move to the second phase are "not quite where they need to be".

"There was progress made between the key negotiation teams on Thursday and we were looking at draft texts and this continued into the weekend", he told Morning Ireland on RTE Radio One.

He said that the reemergence of a land border on Ireland could not be an 'unintended consequence' of moving to phase two of Brexit negotiations without an understanding on the border.

"We need wording which makes it very clear for everybody on the island of Ireland that in the future there is not going to be a reemergence of a border on the island of Ireland.

"The Irish government wants top work with the British government here, not against them. We're not quite where we need to be."

Theresa May is set to meet key EU figures for crunch talks which could determine whether she is able to secure a Brexit deal.

The British Prime Minister will meet European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, amid warnings from Tory Brexiteers not to give any more ground to Brussels.

The meetings in the Belgian capital mark the deadline set by Mr Tusk for Mrs May to come forward with an improved offer on the terms of Britain's withdrawal.

Without it, Mr Tusk has said he will be unable to recommend EU leaders give the green light for the second phase of negotiations - to include talks on a free trade agreement - to begin at their summit on December 14 and 15.

Downing Street sought to play down the significance of the talks, describing them as a "staging post" with further discussions needed before the full gathering with the other 27 leaders in the middle of the month.

"With plenty of discussions still to go, Monday will be an important staging post on the road to the crucial December council," a Government spokesman said.

However her room for manoeuvre appears to be limited, with hardline Brexiteers urging her to walk away from the negotiating table altogether if EU leaders refuse to sanction the move to the second phase.

Mr Tusk has made clear they cannot move on to phase two unless the UK can satisfy Dublin that there will be no return to a "hard border" between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Influential German MEP David McAllister, who is close to Chancellor Angela Merkel, said it was "still a 50-50" as to whether there would be a breakthrough.

Fine Gael MEP Brian Hayes has said it's his understanding that "there's no deal currently."

Speaking on Today with Sean O'Rourke, he said "that's not to say a deal could emerge later this day".

Mr Hayes said it's likely the deal will be announced "over the next few days".

He said today's Cabinet meeting was "an unusual circumstance because of the significance of the issue".

He said "From the Taoiseach's perspective, he wants to ensure that the Cabinet are not just briefed but give him the kind of manoeuvring, if you like, to the get the final deal done" because if it's only a matter of text, which it is, and if it's a matter of coming to agreement on principles as this will be, I think he will want the Cabinet to speak with one voice.

"It's an unusual circumstance because of the significance of the issue and I think from the Taoiseach's perspective, he wants to ensure that the Cabinet are not just briefed but give him the kind of manoeuvring, if you like, to the get the final deal done."

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