Ireland’s foreign minister calls for Brexit deal talks to be ramped up

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Ireland’s Foreign Affairs minister said negotiations on the Brexit withdrawal deal needed to be ramped up after Theresa May told European leaders Chequers was the only route to a deal.

Simon Coveney said that while Theresa May’s government did not agree with the European Union’s text for the withdrawal treaty, it had failed to bring its own alternative.

Describing the consequences of a no-deal Brexit as “damaging and severe”, Mr Coveney said there was an onus on the negotiation teams to find a solution.

The issue about how to avoid a hard border and an agreement on the Irish backstop was still to be resolved.

Mr Coveney with ministerial colleagues ahead of a Brexit briefing at Government buildings in Dublin
Mr Coveney, right, with ministerial colleagues ahead of a Brexit briefing at Government Buildings, Dublin (Niall Carson/PA)

“It will take an intensification of negotiations in Brussels between the two negotiation teams on the details of how the backstop works,” he said.

“That intensification has not happened to the extent that it needs to get this done.

“We don’t have proposed legal text from UK despite the fact we have a UK spokesperson saying it doesn’t agree with the approach of the EU.”

The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier is re-working the offer it put forward earlier this year in a bid to address concerns raised by the British Prime Minister.

Mr Coveney added: “What they are talking about is a de-dramatised minimum amount of practical checks that are needed so that the EU can ensure it protects the integrity of the single market and customs union.

“I think Theresa May is very genuine in her commitment to a backstop and is determined in finding a way forward in that.”

Mr Coveney added that Brexit would be a “lose, lose, lose” for Britain, adding that its influence on the world would be diminished as a result of leaving the EU.

Theresa May at the EU summit in Salzburg
Theresa May, centre, at the EU summit in Salzburg (Matthias Schrader/AP)

“We need to try and finalise a withdrawal treaty that is a legal document which is, to quote Michel Barnier, 87% completed but the remaining 12 or 13% involves Irish issues and the most difficult is the Irish backstop commitment in terms of following through in that.”

Mr Coveney made the comments as he unveiled a campaign to help Irish businesses prepare for Brexit, despite not knowing the details of any deal.

A number of workshops will be held across Ireland next month in a bid to provide a “one-stop-shop” for people and businesses ahead of Britain leaving the EU next March.

Enterprise Minister Heather Humphreys said that Brexit was the “most significant challenge” facing Irish enterprise in over 50 years.

“While there is still uncertainty of what Brexit will look like, there is no doubt it will involve significant change in the trading environment and in how we do business,” she said.

“Ireland traded its way out of challenging times before and we will do so again.

“Preparation is key. We are at the frontline in supporting and encouraging business to prepare for Brexit.”

She said that 85% of businesses were taking Brexit-related action, but she has called for all firms to prepare for Brexit.

Michael Creed, Minister for Agriculture, said he had met with representatives from the agri-food industry in Northern Ireland as well as representatives from the Ulster Farmers’ Union.

“Obviously the absence of an Executive is a problem in terms of having that voice heard loud and clear in the context of the debate,” he said.

“Most people realise there are consequences of a bad outcome of the negotiations for the day-to-day business operations, so I think increasingly that voice is being heard and that’s important.”

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