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Dublin: 4 °C Friday 15 November, 2019

Coveney: 'Brexit deal is possible next month... If UK negotiators step up efforts'

The Foreign Affairs Minister said the UK would have to sign up to commitments it had made on the Irish backstop.

Image: SIPA USA/PA Images

THE UK’S BREXIT negotiators need to step up their efforts if there is to be a Brexit deal in place next month, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said.

Coveney was responding to, subsequently withdrawn, remarks from Britain’s Brexit minister, Dominic Raab, in which he said he believes that there could be a divorce deal in place by November 21. This evening Raab distanced himself from his remarks.

Raab made the comments in a letter to the House of Commons Brexit scrutiny committee, dated October 24 which was made public today.

“I would be happy to give evidence to the committee when a deal is finalised, and currently expect 21 November to be suitable,” Raab wrote in his letter.

However, he rowed back from the remarks this evening with his office releasing a statement saying that there was no set date for the negotiations to end and the November 21 date was simply the date that lawmakers proposed that he next appear before the Brexit committee.

When questioned by reporters in Paris this evening Coveney concurred with Raab’s earlier view. However, he warned that time was short and negotiators would have to signal the likelihood of a deal as early as next week.

“It is up to the British side in particular to intensify negotiations towards a deal,” he said.

He added that the UK would have to sign up to commitments it had made on the Irish backstop last December.

Most of the divorce deal is agreed but talks remain stuck on how to avoid new checks at the border after the UK leaves the single market and customs union.

Raab will visit Northern Ireland on Friday on a “fact-finding trip”, which will include meetings with local businesses and politicians, an official in his ministry told AFP.

EU leaders had mooted a special summit in mid-November to seal the Brexit deal, but warned earlier this month that this would not happen without more progress on the border issue.

In the letter last week Raab wrote: “The end is now firmly in sight and, while obstacles remain, it cannot be beyond us to navigate them.”

United Kingdom: U.K. Cabinet Ministers Attend Weekly Meeting Brexit Minister Dominic Raab. Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

Oliver Robbins, Prime Minister Theresa May’s chief Brexit advisor, refused to repeat the date of November 21, only repeating that “we wish to conclude the deal as quickly as possible”.

Previously, he had said the government was pressing for a deal this autumn.

British officials are keen to avoid the negotiations dragging on, with Brexit day scheduled for March 29 next year.

Separately, Raab’s predecessor David Davis, who quit over the government’s approach to Brexit in July, said the final deal will likely pass when it comes to a vote in the House of Commons.

Davis is among a large minority of May’s Conservative MPs who strongly oppose her strategy, raising fears the deal will be rejected.

“The fear of no deal, I think…. that will win and there will be a deal,” Davis told an event yesterday evening, according to Sky News.

Today he retracted his reported remarks saying that any deal similar to May’s current plan of close economic ties with the EU “will not pass the Commons”.

With additional reporting by AFP © AFP 2018 

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Ceimin Burke

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