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'We're not trying to scare people': Coveney says Brexit not coming up on the doorsteps, but that might change

Coveney said Brexit is coming at us like a ‘freight train’.

Simon Coveney says the next year will be dominated by Brexit.
Simon Coveney says the next year will be dominated by Brexit.
Image: Leah Farrell

TÁNAISTE SIMON COVENEY has said he is not trying to scare people with his Brexit warnings during the election campaign. 

Today, at the final ministerial Cabinet meeting of this government, Coveney briefed his colleagues ahead of Friday’s Brexit deadline.

Speaking to reporters, he said:

“The truth is that Brexit has not been central to the campaign. That may change from Friday on, but we’ll see.”

He acknowledged that voters are “tired” and “fed up” of the Brexit narrative, and the issue hadn’t been featuring on the doorsteps. 

However, he said the next year will involve some tough choices for the Irish government, as trade negotiations begin.

Coveney said Boris Johnson’s determination not to seek an extension to the transition period beyond the end of 2020 is putting the UK in a straitjacket. He said the European Union will be tailored to a time line that will force choices and a “very intense” negotiation.

Brexit deadline

After Friday, the UK will continue to follow EU rules while talks take place on a free trade agreement over an 11-month transition period.

Johnson has stated he will not contemplate an extension beyond the end of the year.

Coveney acknowledged that the tight time frame to reach an agreement is not ideal, but said it is not his view that Ireland will feel the impact of a hard Brexit. 

“We are now moving very quickly in terms of the next stage of Brexit and we have been preparing for that for quite some time,” he said. 

“Choices we will have to make is what can we do to limit the damage of not having an agreement by then”, he said, adding that in that scenario, the trading environment would fall into a WTO (World Trade Organisation) style arrangement. 

Enormous damage can be done without trade agreement being reached, warned Coveney.

“We need to preparing for a failure in that negotiation,” he said, adding the challenge to come in the next year could be even more challenging than the one already overcome. 

Coveney went on to say that after the UK leaves the EU, discussions around the future will begin straight away.

On Monday, the European Commission will publish their draft negotiating mandate which is set to be approved by EU leaders.

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He said the “demanding negotiation” will begin with fishing, in his opinion. 

This could be the first hurdle, with Coveney stating: 

The EU has made it absolutely clear. There will be no free-trade agreement if there is not a deal on fishing between the EU and the UK. One will be contingent on the other.

‘Difficult choices’

“I think what will become very clear is that we will have to make some very difficult choices before the summer and what I mean by that is, the European Union has already indicated that there is no way that a full future relationship agreement that involves free trade agreements can be completed by the end of the year, there was no chance.”

Putting on his electioneering hat, Coveney said:

“I ask the question who do you trust to manage all of that because it’s coming at us like a freight train, whether you like it or not?”

When asked whether there should be an all-party agreement on the government’s approach to Brexit after the election, and during the government formation talks, Coveney agreed there should be. 

While Coveney wants to get back into power to lead Ireland’s Brexit message, he said: 

“We will work of course in the interests of the country and whoever is in the office of the Taoiseach.”

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