Ireland’s foreign minister has said he is optimistic a Brexit deal can be struck “in the next few days”.
As negotiators from the EU and the UK continue talks in London, Simon Coveney was flying to Paris for talks with his French counterpart, with fishing rights, one of the remaining stumbling blocks in the talks, expected to come up.
“There’s a good chance we can get a deal across the line in the next few days,” he told Ireland’s Newstalk radio. “We are in the space of days not weeks,” he added.
He was commenting just hours after the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, told envoys the next 48 hours would be decisive.
Coveney warned the next 48 hours could be bumpy. “Closing out a negotiation as complex as this one is never going to be easy. It’s going to be full of tension and stand-offs, as both sides try to close out a deal that is acceptable.”
However, the Irish foreign minister dismissed the possibility that talks would quickly resume next year if they collapsed this week and the UK walked away.
He said this was “a very dangerous assumption” because of the disruption and “political tension that will follow” any collapse in trade talks.
Waiting until 2021 “would mean significant disruption, costs, stress, and blame games between Brussels and London”.
On Wednesday Boris Johnson’s press secretary, Allegra Stratton, said the prime minister was hopeful but equally confident if talks failed.
“He is optimistic but he’s also always said that he is confident and comfortable that we would be OK without a deal.
“If a deal can be struck that’s all to the good, but he’s also confident that we can move towards trading on what he calls Australia terms,” she said, referring to Johnson’s formulation for trading under World Trade Organization terms.
One of the trickiest questions negotiators are grappling with is how to disentangle the two sides’ fishing rights after 47 years of sharing waters.
Coveney will hold discussions with the French minister for European and foreign affairs, Jean-Yves Le Drian and the minister of state for European affairs, Clément Beaune.
While fishing accounts for less than 0.1% of the British economy the sector is emblematic of Brexit with Boris Johnson frequently declaring the importance of establishing sovereignty and control over who has access British waters, including the narrow strait at the Channel, where the French land 80% of the cod catch.
Johnson has lowered his Brexit demands by asking EU fishing fleets to hand over up to 60% of the value of stocks it takes from British waters, but this has been rejected by the EU, which was seeking to retain 80%.
The government will confirm later on Thursday that the new finance bill will be tabled next week. Incendiary clauses on Northern Ireland are expected to be included if a Brexit deal is not struck by next week.
Coveney said the threat of such legislation was “hardly consistent with a government that’s looking to build a positive partnership and future relationship”.