Brexit deal still possible but prospect of no deal growing, says Irish minister

A Brexit deal that sees the UK enter into a transition agreement with the EU while a future relationship is negotiated “is still possible”, the Irish finance minister has claimed.

Paschal Donohoe said, however, that “the prospect of no deal has grown”.

Mr Donohoe was in London as he met Chancellor Sajid Javid to discuss the UK Government’s latest plans for exiting the EU.

Speaking to the BBC’s Newsnight programme, he said a deal could be done.

He added: “I believe it is still possible that we could see agreements in which Britain enters into a transition agreement in advance of them finally departing before the European Union.

“But as I stand now, I’d have to be equally clear in saying that I do believe that the prospect of a no-deal Brexit has grown.

“I believe that a no-deal Brexit and the United Kingdom leaving the European Union without a deal is a very credible and material risk now.”

Mr Donohoe said the appointment of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister has “added a new dynamic” to Brexit talks.

He added: “I believe Prime Minister Johnson feels differently about the relationship between the United Kingdom and the European Union and the future trust of that relationship to how Prime Minister May would have.

“And I believe that has added a new dynamic into where we are in Brexit.

“But in acknowledging that there is a new dynamic, I am also crystal clear that the views of the Irish government and the views of Ireland in relation to the backstop, the Withdrawal Agreement and our future in the European Union, which have been affirmed again and again, that would not be changing.”

Mr Donohoe spoke to journalists at the Irish embassy after a meeting with Mr Javid about the UK Government’s plans for exiting the EU.

He warned the relationship between the UK and Ireland would “fundamentally change” in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

Mr Donohoe said: “If the United Kingdom became a third country, it would have a fundamental effect on the nature of the economic relationship between the United Kingdom and Ireland because obviously, they would be outside the single market, they would be outside the customs union and they would be treated like other countries that are outside of the European Union from a trading point of view.

“Were that to happen – which it would in the event of a no-deal Brexit – it would fundamentally change the relationship that is there.”

Mr Donohoe added: “The Chancellor affirmed what Prime Minister Johnson had said in relation to the Withdrawal Agreement and in relation to the view that the backstop cannot form part of that Withdrawal Agreement.

“I also had, therefore, to explain why I believe the ratification of the backstop was the best possible guarantee to ensuring that we do not have a return to a hard border on the island of Ireland.”

The finance minister said he believed “the prospect of a no-deal Brexit is growing”.

He added: “I believe that the consequences of that are well understood by us in Ireland and this is the reason why over the last number of weeks we have published our latest contingency plan which has laid out all of the different consequences that a no-deal Brexit could cause and all of the actions we will take, and are taking, to deal with those issues.”

Asked when the Irish government will announce where checks on goods travelling between the Republic and Northern Ireland would take place in the event of a no-deal Brexit, Mr Donohoe said Dublin is “engaging with the European Commission” on the issue.

He added: “From our point of view, we are determined to ensure that our position within the single market is not affected by this.

“Our membership of the single market is an essential element of our economic model and we will not allow it to be affected by a decision taken by the United Kingdom and its people – which we respect – to leave the European Union.

“We are engaging with the commission directly on that and other matters at the moment.”

On the question of whether London would offer a financial package to the Irish government to help resolve any border issues, Mr Donohoe said he would “prefer not to go into the detail” of any financial discussions.

He added: “He (Sajid Javid) laid out his thoughts regarding how a no-deal Brexit could be avoided and also different options that could be dealt with and could be looked at to avoid the development of infrastructure on the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

“I explained to him why we have already explored many of these different options, why we believe they won’t work and why we believe that an alignment of standards and regulations between Northern Ireland and Ireland is the best insurance policy for dealing with the risk of avoiding a hard border developing.”

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