TAOISEACH Micheál Martin has said there is “hope as long as people continue to talk” after negotiations on a post-Brexit trade deal were extended.
As a deadline for the talks passed yesterday, British prime minister Boris Johnson and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen agreed to “go the extra mile”.
Mr Johnson said the UK would not be walking away from the negotiating table but warned the two sides “remain very far apart” and no-deal was still the most likely outcome.
“We’re going to continue to try and we’re going to try with all our hearts and be as creative as we possibly can, but what we can’t do is compromise on that fundamental nature of what Brexit is all about which is us being able to control our laws, control our fisheries, it’s very, very simple.”
Taoiseach Micheál Martin welcomed the talks extension, saying it was “imperative” that both sides do everything possible to avoid the transition period ending on December 31 without a deal.
He told RTÉ he does not understate the challenges facing both sets of negotiators but added that with “a will there is a way”.
Speaking this morning, Mr Martin said that despite the challenges that have “bedeviled” the talks from the outset, he is “hopeful” something can be achieved from the extended talks.
Talks were extended on Sunday after Boris Johnson and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen agreed to continue the process despite major differences still remaining.
The major sticking points of the talks have been on issues of fishing rights and the “level playing field” as well as the dispute resolution mechanism.
The taoiseach said both sides are aware of the “enormity and severity” of a no-deal Brexit on their respective economies.
“The fact that they have continued to engage … without understating the enormous challenges that face both sets of negotiators in trying to square the circle around this level playing field and standards,” Mr Martin told RTÉ Morning Ireland.
He said the mood at last week’s EU Council meeting was “downbeat”.
Mr Martin also said the 97% agreed part of the deal is “very important”.
“A lot has been done and it would be a terrible pity to lose all of that in terms of the normal living that people should rightly expect, citizens of the UK, Ireland and Europe,” he added.
“The circle is going to be difficult to square but we need to stand back too from the high principle of this and say ‘Britain is a first-world economy, its economy has been integrated with the EU economy for the last 50 years’.
“I am not convinced that there is going to be a significant divergence in standards into the future.
“That said, people may seek advantage to supporting particular industries and sectors through state aid and that’s got to be dealt with and addressed through an agreement which would allow for a dispute resolution mechanism.”
A new deal will have to be in place by January 1 when the UK’s trading arrangements with the EU draws to an end.
If both sides fail to reach an agreement, tariffs and quotas will apply which the Irish Government has continuously raised concerns about.
Mr Martin said he had not spoken to Mr Johnson over the weekend, but added it is important that good British and Irish relations continue after Brexit.
“We know that the Good Friday Agreement was founded on a very strong relationship between Britain and Ireland and the two governments and that will continue,” he added.
The Taoiseach was also critical of Mr Johnson’s threat to deploy Royal Navy vessels to patrol the seas around Britain if there is no deal.
“All of that type of language isn’t helpful, although, depending on how you read a particular situation, all nations have their fisheries protection capacity,” he said.
“Perhaps it demonstrates the dangers of an acrimonious break-up because dialogue matters more and we know from our history that dialogue is far better than conflict.
“The real end is New Year’s Eve but both sides are very possessed of the need to try and get outcomes to these negotiations in the next numbers of days.
“I am hopeful but I don’t want to understate the very significant challenges that face both the UK and the EU side on this level playing field issue and the fisheries issue.
“They are significantly difficult issues and they have bedevilled the talks from the outset. But the fact they have decided to continue the talks yesterday is a hopeful sign and I do take some hope from that.”
Foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney also said it was “time to hold our nerve and allow the negotiators to inch progress forward – even at this late stage” as a deal was still possible although “very difficult”.
Meanwhile, the DUP’s Lord Nigel Dodds said trade between Northern Ireland and the EU would continue in a no deal scenario.
“Trade between Northern Ireland to Great Britain will be unfettered, with no extra paperwork,” he added.
“We must ensure that Great Britain to Northern Ireland trade is tariff-free and with the minimum checks.”
However, Ulster Unionist MLA Roy Beggs claimed EU officials will now be sent to Northern Ireland ports to “look over the shoulder of UK officials who are doing the checking at the border control posts”.
“That’s where we have now ended up after the DUP’s support for Boris Johnson’s proposals last year.”
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