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Boris Johnson and Simon Coveney weren't singing from the same hymn sheet in Dublin this morning

Johnson wants Brexit negotiations to move onto trade but Coveney says some issues have to be decided first.

borris 774 copy Simon Coveney and Boris Johnson at the Department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin. Source: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

UK FOREIGN SECRETARY Boris Johnson held a joint press conference with Irish counterpart Simon Coveney in Dublin this morning and differences between their relative positions were evident.

Coveney reiterated the Irish position that a transitionary period of “four or five years” is preferable for new trade arrangements after Brexit while Johnson said he feels a new relationship could be forged “on a much shorter timescale”.

The pair were meeting at the Department of Foreign Affairs on an important day for Ireland-UK relations with leaders Leo Varadkar and Theresa May also meeting in Sweden.

At a Brexit-focused event in Dublin last night hosted by business group Ibec, Coveney said that “these aren’t the easiest times” for relations between the two nations. He also made remarks favouring the longer transitional period.

At this morning’s press conference, Johnson said he feels the timescale is too lengthy that negotiations should be moved forward.

“I must confess that I wasn’t aware of the proposal from Simon for such a long transition period, but I think I understand the sentiment behind it,” Johnson said.

Which is that everybody wants to have the maximum possible reassurance. I think it’s possible to do that on a much shorter timescale and what we would like to do is get on as fast as possible with the meat of the negotiations. Get the real conversation about how this is going to work.

Before UK-EU negotiations move onto the crucial issue of trade, parties must agree that sufficient progress has been made on three key issues: the UK’s exit bill, the fate of Northern Ireland, and the rights of EU citizens living in Britain.

Johnson said that he wants the talks to move onto this phase, arguing that the post-Brexit relationship between Ireland and the UK can be discussed as part of wide trade negotiations.

“The issues of the Northern Irish border and how it works are intellectually, intimately bound up with the questions of the custom union, single-market, Britain’s relationship with those and those questions have been reserved by the commission for study in stage two of the negotiations,” he said.

And I think logically now is the time to proceed with stage two of the negotiations, get those issues really teased out. Develop a vision for how it is going to work, not just the Northern Irish border, Dover, Calais, everywhere where the UK has a border with the EU and sort it out that way. I share Simon’s view that we need to get on with this, but our view is you can only crack the problem in the context of a wider understanding of how the new customs union arrangements are going to work across the board.

borris 781 copy Today is Johnson's first visit to Dublin as UK Foreign Secretary. Source: Sam Boal/RollingNews.ie

Coveney disagreed with Johnson and said that talks are not yet at that point.

“The EU taskforce has said that there are parameters around which we need to find solutions, and the details of that will be in phase two, I am sure. But those parameters need to be a lot clearer and a lot clearer before we can move on to phase two,” Coveney said.

Ireland’s Foreign Minister also took issue with a description used by Johnson, saying that “we’re in the meat of the negotiations right now on certain issues”.

“What we have said is that by all means we want to get into the meat of the discussions on trade, we think it’s possible within 12 months to put a framework agreement in place in terms of what the future relationship might look like, but we also think it’s going to take a number of years to finalise the detail of that.” Coveney added.

(Click here if video doesn’t play)

Despite both parties being in different places in their view of the negotiations, Johnson said again that ”the British government has absolutely no interest in any kind of hard border”.

“That is the last thing we want to see as a result of this exercise,” he added.

The meeting coincides with talks taking place between Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and UK Prime Minister Theresa May in Sweden.

The pair are in Gothenburg for an EU summit meeting but are also meeting bilaterally to discuss Brexit.

The Taoiseach’s department has said that Varadkar  “will emphasise the importance of upholding all aspects of the Good Friday Agreement including the power sharing institutions, and will continue to urge the Northern Ireland parties to reach agreement”.

This meeting with the prime minister comes in advance of December’s meeting of the European Council where a decision will be taken on whether or not to progress to the next phase of Brexit negotiations.

The Taoiseach is expected to emphasise at the meeting that progress is possible in December but only if all sides show sufficient political will.

Read: Britain’s government has survived the first parliamentary challenges to its Brexit bill >

Read: ‘Take it or leave it’: MPs will get a chance to turn down Brexit deal >

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