Tánaiste Simon Coveney says challenges of Covid-19 make Brexit more complicated

Tánaiste Simon Coveney. Picture by Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland/PA Wire

TÁNAISTE Simon Coveney has said the challenges of Covid-19 have made Brexit more complicated.

Speaking in the Dáil, the foreign affairs minister said the outlook for the next phase of negotiations was "not good" and the coronavirus crisis "raises the stakes even higher, if they were not high enough already".

Mr Coveney also said he could not say whether the UK would ask for an extension of the Brexit transition period.

Under the withdrawal agreement such a decision, to be made jointly between the EU and UK, must be taken by June 30.

"The challenges we face in the context of Covid-19 make Brexit even more complicated in some ways," he said.

"It also raises the stakes even higher, if they were not high enough already.

"The idea that we would knowingly allow a second significant negative impact on our economy and our trading opportunities with our closest neighbour after the impact of Covid-19, which has been and will continue to be significant, by not managing to agree a sensible trading arrangement between the EU and the UK, is something that will focus minds in the months ahead."

Asked about calls for the UK to agree to a Brexit extension, Mr Coveney said it would not be helpful to speculate, given that the UK had repeatedly said it did not need an extension.

He said it was necessary to plan to "protect Irish interests" and they would continue to be ready to work towards the date of December 31.

But Sinn Féin's Pearse Doherty said he believes the British government must request an extension .

He told the Dáil that a crisis point has been reached in the Brexit negotiations and the Irish government and EU negotiators must impress upon the UK that more time should be sought without delay.

He also said the threat of a hard Brexit had not disappeared.

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