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Coveney claims Brexit will 'dominate Irish politics' as UK prepares to leave the EU tonight

He also said there will be no discussions on a trade deal if there is not a ‘level playing field’.

Image: Niall Carson

Updated Jan 31st 2020, 8:21 AM

TÁNAISTE SIMON COVENEY has said he is sick of talking about Brexit but that Ireland does not have the luxury to turn a blind eye as the UK enters the transition period where trade and movement will be negotiated. 

Speaking at Dublin Port this morning, Coveney said: “Brexit is going to dominate Irish politics for at least the next 12 to 18 months. I know that the public are fed up talking about Brexit – so am I, quite frankly.

“But we don’t have the luxury of not talking about Brexit and preparing for it.”

He also took aim at Micheál Martin and Fianna Fáil’s Brexit spokesperson, Lisa Chambers, who he said don’t “seem to want to talk about Brexit, and I don’t know why”.

Meanwhile, he earlier said that without a “level playing field” there will be no EU trade deal with Britain post-Brexit.

Coveney said any diversion from Britain on workers’ rights or competition rules will see negotiations for a future trading relationship with the EU scuppered.

“There won’t be a trade deal if there isn’t a level playing field, one that is robust and credible,” he said.

“Standards will have to be maintained in regards to environmental standards, or workers’ rights and so on.

“That is only half of the challenge, the other half is around fair competition. If the UK is trying to derive a competitive advantage for its own companies in order to trade into the EU – if that’s the objective there will be no trade deal.”

Coveney added that Boris Johnson would have to respond to concerns within the business community if that were the case: “You’re not going to disadvantage your own companies by not adhering to state aid competition rules for instance.”

He added that Britain has “tied its own hands” in terms of ruling out an extension to the 12-month time period for negotiations, and said both the UK and EU will need to prepare for damage control as some areas will be prioritised over others.

“The EU wants a deal but recognises a full future relationship deal is not possible by the end of year, so we will have to prioritise within the negotiations.

“The EU will prioritise a good deal on fishing as part of negotiations for a free trade agreement that may be limited in scope but tries to provide one that doesn’t involve tariffs and quotas, that’s going to cause a lot of political tension (in Britain) because promises were made.

“The EU is pragmatic and wants to work in partnership with the UK, but make no mistake, they will defend their own interests, that’s what a trade deal is about.

“Really the tone of these negotiations will be determined by the UK’s approach, I hope we don’t get the sabre rattling we’ve seen in the last round, there was too much grand standing and not enough recognition of real and legal consequences.

“The EU is an open book, very predictable, very treaty based, and the UK know only too well, if they’re not willing to approach negotiations in that knowledge, we’re going to have real problems.

“The EU will not be taken for granted and will always protect the interests of those staying in the union first and that’s why things may be difficult.”

Coveney added that a deal around security, energy, data and other areas will not be possible to conclude by the end of the year.

He added that it is “unlikely” that the prime minister will ask for an extension, adding they were “not getting into playing games”, but hopes Johnson would seek an extension, for which a protocol was included within the Withdrawal Agreement, if necessary.

“From an Irish perspective, we’ll be looking for a full implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol, the setting up of committees to examine how Northern Ireland will operate in the EU customs code,” he said.

“There is no other option to have some form of checks (on goods coming from Great Britain into Northern Ireland), if you’re going to avoid border checks and Boris Johnson has signed up to that now and there has to be follow through, so that the Withdrawal Agreement is implementable.

“There is a lot of work to do and not a lot of time to do it, that’s why I think the EU will want to finalise the negotiation mandate quickly,” Coveney added, noting that he believed the draft mandate for the negotiations will be confirmed by the European Council on 25 February.

Coveney said that he thought of Friday, 31 January as a “very sad day”, adding: “I think everybody is losing here, Britain will be weaker in terms of global standing for not having the support of the EU.

“The EU will be weaker for not having the strength that Britain brings and Ireland will be somewhat weaker because our relationship is going to change with the UK, and you have to ask yourself, for what?

“I think history will judge this decision as a mistake, but a decision the UK is entitled to make.”

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