Brexit

Simon Coveney: Not quite yet where we need to be on Brexit border issue

Simon Coveney. Picture by Hugh Russell.

The Irish Government has made clear that the border issue remains unresolved ahead of a crunch round of Brexit talks involving Prime Minister Theresa May and key EU figures.

Deputy Premier and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney insisted his administration would hold firm on its need for a written assurance from the UK that there would be no hardening of the border post-Brexit.

He said some progress on the form of text had been made since last Thursday and expressed hope that an agreement could be reached on Monday, but he stressed there was still a distance to travel.

Mrs May will meet European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, later on Monday for negotiations that could have a crucial bearing on whether she is able to secure an overall Brexit deal.

It is also set to be one of the most significant days in Anglo-Irish relations in decades.

The EU has given Ireland a veto on whether the UK can progress to phase two of the Brexit talks.

Unless the Irish government is satisfied with the guarantee on the border the other EU nations will refuse to proceed.

While the two sides appear to be moving closer on the UK's divorce bill and future citizens' rights, it is unclear whether they can bridge the gap on the Irish border - the third area where Brussels is demanding progress.

Tanaiste Mr Coveney acknowledged that no-one wanted a hard border.

But he added: "Our fear of course is that it would have an unintended consequence because people can't find a way of resolving that issue in the future and we can't allow that and we won't."

He said talks involving London, Brussels and Dublin were at a "sensitive place".

"We have a discussion on text that we don't yet have agreement on," he told RTE Radio One.

"But we have had a lot of discussions on it over the weekend and there are political conversations happening in both governments in relation to that text."

He added: "We are not quite yet where we need to be, but it is possible to do that today but the Irish Government has to remain firm on the key issues for the island of Ireland."

Simon Coveney, the Republic's foreign affairs minister, said this morning that discussions with the British government on border issues were in a "sensitive place right now".

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Mr Coveney said that while progree had been made over the weekend: "We are not quite yet where we need to be".

He added: "Hopefully we'll find a way forward today".

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 UK Government spokesman said.

However, her room for manoeuvre appears to be limited, with hard-line 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 that 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, has said it is "still a 50-50" as to whether there would be a breakthrough.

Yesterday brough a number of significant developments:

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