Brexit

Simon Coveney warns of 'significant gap' between Britain and EU on Brexit

Tanaiste Simon Coveney. Picture by Niall Carson/PA Wire.
Aoife Moore, Press Association

The tánaiste has poured cold water on reports that the British government is getting close to a deal with EU negotiators.

Simon Coveney said there is a gap between what the British government "has been suggesting that they're looking for and what Ireland and the EU need in terms of getting a deal".

He added: "In order to close that gap we need to get credible proposals from the British government, which we simply haven't received yet.

"There has been a lot of talk in the last few days of intensive efforts and progress being made.

"Let me just introduce a dose of reality here: there is a significant gap between what the British government has been asking about in their approach, and what the EU is able to accept and that gap needs to close.

"Until we get proposals in writing then I think there isn't a lot of credibility to what's being said, because this is a legal detailed negotiation that required legal text and solution to very complex problems.

"We're loyal to the Withdrawal Agreement, but if the British government wants to change that agreement and remove elements of it then they have to answer the hard questions of how they deal with the problems that arise as a result of that approach and they simply haven't done that in a credible way, and we're running out of time now."

When asked why he thought the British negotiators have not produced any credible proposals, Mr Coveney added: "I think I can only assume they're working on it, it's getting very late in the day now.

"All I can do is repeat the message from Michel Barnier, Juncker and other EU leaders, we have to solve the problems that we know the Withdrawal Agreement, in totality, solves, particularly in relation to the island of Ireland.

"The way this gets solved is for the British Government to bring forward credible proposals, and I suggest they do that as soon as possible."

Mr Coveney said there is a growing sense of frustration within the EU as time closes in on October 31, the date set for the UK to leave the EU, referring to recent statements by Finnish Prime Minister Antti Rinne and French President Emmanuel Macron that the UK needs to produce proposals in writing by the end of September.

Mr Coveney added: "With only a few weeks to go, we still haven't seen any credible proposals and that is concerning.

"A no-deal is a lose, lose, lose for everybody."

On Wednesday night, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar met DUP leader Arlene Foster in Dublin, which was marked by considerable public interest and speculation that Ms Foster may be changing her position on a Northern Ireland-only backstop.

Mr Coveney said: "I think the first thing to remember is negotiations are between the UK and EU collective, but obviously there are a lot of stakeholders who don't want to see a no-deal, we are very much in that category, and I think Arlene Foster and the DUP is too.

"The meeting last night was friendly, but it didn't solve all problems and we need to be careful that this isn't interpreted as some kind of breakthrough because I don't think it is."

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