Ireland given 'distinct strand' in Brexit trade negotiations

Simon Coveney with Michel Barnier in Brussels yesterday

Ireland's trade arrangements will receive special consideration during the next round of the Brexit negotiations between the EU and the UK.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said Brussels would give the Republic its full support when talks on trade begin early next year, adding that Ireland would have a "distinct strand" in phase two of the negotiations.

Mr Barnier made the pledge after a meeting Dublin Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney in the EU capital yesterday.

SDLP MLA Claire Hanna welcomed the commitment, describing it as a "welcome affirmation of the strength with which the EU backs this island".

The tánaiste's visit to Brussels, along other EU27 foreign ministers, came after last Friday's breakthrough agreement on Brexit talks.

The deal announced by British Prime Minister Theresa May and Jean Claude Juncker gave a guarantee of "no hard border" between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

The EU27 foreign ministers are due to get a progress report on last week's agreement before phase one of the deal is officially signed off by the European Council tomorrow.

After yesterday's meeting, Mr Barnier tweeted Barnier that it was "good to touch base with Tánaiste Simon Coveney after last week's agreement – now to discuss phase two".

The Brussels chief negotiator said the EU "will fully support Ireland throughout Brexit talks", adding that Ireland would have a "distinct strand in phase two".

Mr Coveney responded by saying it was "another good meeting with Michel Barnier discussing progress on Brexit negotiations".

"Irish issues will remain a priority in phase two," he added.

A Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman said the EU commitment to phase two was important as Dublin worked "to achieve the best possible outcome for the island of Ireland, our citizens and our economy".

"It has been agreed that the Irish specific issues will continue to be taken forward in a distinct strand of the negotiations in phase two," he said.

"This very welcome development will ensure that that they will not be overlooked in the next phase and that the very important work will continue on how to avoid a hard border in parallel with the wider negotiations on scoping out the EU's future relationship with the UK."

Ms Hanna said the "backtracking" from Brexit Secretary David Davis on Friday's agreement had been "met firmly" by the EU.

"Today's confirmation from Michel Barnier and Simon Coveney that Ireland will form a distinct strand in phase two of the negotiations is a welcome affirmation of the strength with which the EU backs this island," she said.

"Our future trading position across this island, with the single market and with Britain must be laid out in detail. It will be fundamental to ensuring there is no hard border."

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