A ‘very basic and thin free trade agreement’ between the European Union and the United Kingdom increasingly looks like the only positive outcome between now and the end of the year according to Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney.
Addressing a Dungarvan & West Waterford Brexit Webinar on Monday last, Minister Coveney said the absence of such a deal would lead to “a lot more disruption than we otherwise would have from the start of next year in terms of trade with the UK. What we’ve seen in the last week or so is a significant increase in the media profile of the Brexit discussions and negotiations because the British Government has decided to take a much more aggressive approach towards trying to, we can only assume, force concessions out of the EU side. And that has ignited real tension, eroded trust to a certain extent but has resulted in an awful lot more coverage of the issue itself.”
Despite the British Government’s recent sabre-rattling, Minister Coveney told Chamber members that he remains “reasonably optimistic that a deal is still possible even though many commentators will be far more pessimistic in their outlook”.
To date there have been eight rounds of formal negotiations between the EU and the UK in addition to four informal meetings, the Minister noted. “To be honest with you, they’ve gotten nowhere,” he admitted.
“The main reason we’ve made no progress in relation to putting together the foundations that are necessary for a free trade agreement is that the UK Government has simply moved away from what they committed to do in what’s called the Political Declaration.”
This declaration established the “rules of engagement and the parameters within which we would agree a future trade agreement and a future relationship. And unfortunately, those parameters – and this happened back in March – the British Government said ‘well, yes, look we did sign that but we’re now moving away from those political commitments’; the biggest one being on the need to establish a level playing field between the British economy and the EU economy so that we can have fair competition on both sides of the Irish Sea and fair competition between the UK and the ‘mainland EU’, if you want to call it that, which would then allow us to put a free trade agreement in place that wouldn’t involve tariffs in particular but also perhaps quotas on some products.”
So bearing all of this in mind, why does Minister Coveney feel a potentially positive outcome – even a basic one – can still be achieved between now and year’s end?
“The very fact that negotiations are continuing this week in Brussels between David Frost and his team and Michel Barnier and his team is an indication of that,” he said. “Despite all of the distractions and the straw men that have been put out there by Number 10 over the last few days that have really created an atmosphere of some tension, I still think the actual negotiators will still be focused on trying to find solutions to these core issues that will allow us to avoid the political failure of having to revert to WTO rules and regulations for trade at the end of this year.”
Just one more round of scheduled formal negotiations between the EU and the UK is due to take place between now and December 31, which Minister Coveney feels will be subject to alteration. He added: “I don’t believe we’ll get a deal until the end of October at the earliest and I think you will see a lot of politics and grandstanding and distractions between now and then.”