Coveney remains hopeful of Brexit breakthrough as ‘gaps narrow’

Ireland’s deputy premier remains hopeful that a Brexit deal can be fleshed out before the crucial EU summit.

Simon Coveney rejected claims that a deal cannot be negotiated in time for the EU Summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday.

The Tanaiste made the comments after emerging from a briefing with the European Union’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier.

He warned that a lot of progress needs to be made over the next 24 hours between the EU and UK negotiating teams, who are locked in discussions.

“I don’t think it’s inevitable that they can’t get a deal before the summit,” Mr Coveney said.

“I think what Michel Barnier said today was very clear, that it’s difficult but possible to have a deal between the two negotiating teams this side of the leaders’ summit.

“That means that a lot of progress needs to be made today, but I think that’s doable if there is a willingness on both sides to move this process to conclusion.

“Of course, if that doesn’t happen, well then it leads to another debate in terms of how the leaders will respond to that in the context of whether more time will be needed or whether we can continue discussions into next week on trying to get the job done.”

Ireland’s foreign affairs minister told reporters that securing a deal will require “a big step forward” from the negotiating teams today.

“This isn’t a time for optimism or pessimism quite frankly, we need to deal with the facts as we see them,” he added.

“The negotiating teams have made progress but it’s been slow and they will need to make significant progress today if there is to be a deal that Michel Barnier can report on tomorrow to EU capitals in advance of the leaders’ summit.

“But it’s a matter for legal negotiating teams to get that legal text in place which deals with the politics of this in terms of competing demands from an EU perspective and UK perspective.

“A few things are clear – there will not be negotiations of text at that summit. The EU is very clear on that.”

In order for a deal to be reached ahead of the crucial summit, which has been seen as the cut-off point for a deal, the negotiating teams have to finalise the legal text in the agreement.

Mr Coveney said Tuesday is the “key” day in doing that.

Mr Barnier told EU27 ministers that progress has been made in narrowing the gaps between the EU and British teams.

“The UK side has introduced new text. Clearly the meeting last week between the Taoiseach (Leo Varadkar) and the Prime Minister provided the backdrop for that progress in the context of both leaders seeing a pathway to a deal,” Mr Coveney continued.

“They envisaged a way to get there and the taskforce and the UK negotiators have tried to turn that into a legal text.

“I don’t want to raise expectations about later on today or this evening but if there is going to be a positive report to EU leaders tomorrow in advance of an EU Summit, then clearly a big step forward needs to happen today to build on what has been slow but steady progress.”

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