Brexit

Talk of early Brexit breakthrough played down by Simon Coveney

Simon Coveney said significant gaps remained between the two sides in the Brexit negotiations

TÁNAISTE Simon Coveney has sounded a cautious note about the prospects for a breakthrough in Brexit negotiations this week.

As discussions between the British government and EU continued in Brussels yesterday, Dublin's foreign affairs minister said it was possible that talks could drift into next week.

There was increased optimism over the potential for a deal being secured ahead of this week's EU summit following face-to-face talks between Leo Varadkar and Boris Johnson last Thursday.

Revised proposals emerged which are understood to involve Northern Ireland leaving the customs union along with the rest of the UK yet continuing to apply its rules, therefore avoiding a hard border.

But hopes that a deal could be agreed and then potentially ratified during a special sitting at Westminster on Saturday - ahead of a Brexit deadline of October 31 - appear remote.

It was reported yesterday that EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier had told a diplomats' briefing that the British had dropped proposals to include a veto for Stormont ahead of any new arrangements for Northern Ireland coming into force.

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Speaking in Luxembourg, Mr Coveney was downbeat on the prospects for an imminent breakthrough.

"I think it's too early to say, even though we're only a few days away from the summit – it's too early to say whether it's possible to get a breakthrough this week or whether it will move into next week," he said.

The Fine Gael deputy leader said the negotiations should proceed in a "confidential and intensive" way.

He said significant gaps remained between the two sides and that the issues under discussion were complex.

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"What they're attempting to do here is to write a legal text for an international treaty, that is a Withdrawal Agreement – that means it's got to be watertight, it's got to stand up to full scrutiny and legal challenge potentially, and what they're trying to do is complicated." he said.

"They're trying to put in place an arrangement that is Northern Ireland specific, that protects UK interests and EU interests, in a way that's quite complex. So we need to give negotiating teams space to do that, I think there is good will and a political determination to get this done."

He said last week's meeting between the taoiseach and British prime minister, after which they said there was a possible "pathway" to a deal, had given the negotiations fresh impetus.

"They can see an approach here that they believe can work and that approach has then been taken forward by two negotiating teams, they've intensified their focus on trying to make that work," he said

The talks are thought to be sticking on the British proposals for the north to remain in a customs partnership, applying EU rules and tariff procedures.

Mr Barnier was reported to have raised concern about the complexity of the British plan.

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