Raab ‘confident’ Northern Ireland Brexit hurdles can be overcome

Dominic Raab has said he is “confident” that the Northern Ireland hurdles can be overcome to ensure the UK secures a trade deal.

The Foreign Secretary added he believed the UK Government would be able to allay American fears and navigate the Northern Ireland issue to satisfy allies in the US following Joe Biden’s presidential election win.

It comes as Boris Johnson and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen agreed during a phone call on Saturday to “redouble efforts” to reach a UK-EU trade deal and signed off on talks continuing next week.

Downing Street said the Prime Minister had told his Brussels counterpart that there remained “significant differences” in the UK-EU negotiations, with the two sides continuing to be apart on their positions over fishing rights and a level playing field agreement.

The call follows two weeks of intensified talks between the UK’s chief negotiator Lord Frost and his European Union equivalent Michel Barnier ahead of further discussions between the pair in London next week.

Mr Rabb told BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show: “We’ve been very clear we are absolutely committed to respect the Good Friday Agreement but our argument is, and it was good to have the opportunity when I was in Washington to explain, it is the EU who has put pressure on that with the approach it has taken.

“We want to resolve all those issues with the EU – obviously the negotiations are ongoing, there is a good chance of a deal if we get the flexibility from the EU on fisheries and level-playing field.

“I’m confident we will navigate all of those issues sensitively, correctly, and, as I said, we listen very carefully to our American friends, particularly on the Hill and in the Irish lobby – they feel very invested in the Good Friday Agreement, we understand that, and I pay tribute to what George Mitchell and Bill Clinton did – but it is not the UK which is putting it at risk, it is the approach of the EU.”

Asked whether a trade deal could be secured with the EU by the end of the week, the Foreign Secretary added: “I wouldn’t make assumptions, that is the one thing we know about the Brexit process.

“I spoke to David Frost yesterday, the issues are where they are. The Prime Minister has spoken to Ursula von der Leyen, the head of the Commission, and negotiations are ongoing.

“What I would say is that it still boils down to two basic issues. There is progress being made but we’ve got to see whether it is enough to get us over the line.

“There are some core interests at stake for the UK, points of democratic principle around control of our laws, control of our fisheries as an independent coastal state.

“I don’t think we can toss those aside. But if the EU shows the flexibility, the good will to meet us halfway, I am confident a deal can still be done.”

Mr Johnson and Ms von der Leyen’s conversation last month led to discussions being “intensified” before a fallout after the European Council meeting on October 15 briefly derailed the negotiations.

UK chief negotiator Lord Frost was in the Belgian capital to speak face-to-face with his European Union counterpart Mr Barnier earlier this week as the deadline for doing a deal edges closer.

After Saturday’s phone call, Lord Frost tweeted: “Prime Minister Boris Johnson and commission President Ursula von der Leyen spoke today about our negotiations with the EU.

“My talks with Michel Barnier will continue in London on Monday.”

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