And Ray Bassett, a former Irish ambassador to Canada, Jamaica and the Bahamas, said Britain may even decide to pull the plug on controversial arrangements for the Irish border enshrined in the Withdrawal Agreement, with UK arguing the agreement was based on a free trade deal being struck. Mr Bassett said Ireland’s Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was having to face up to the distinct possibility of a no-deal outcome and the consequent damage it would inflict on his country’s economy.
The latest round of negotiations is due to get underway in Brussels next week – but after UK negotiator David Frost and the EU’s Michel Barnier exchanged testy letters earlier this month, both sides are braced for difficult times ahead.
Across the Irish sea, Ireland has restarted no-deal planning, with Simon Coveney, Mr Varadkar’s deputy, briefing the cabinet today, to outline the worst case, no-deal scenario, which could end up costing Irish agrifood exports one billion euros in tariffs.
One insider told the Irish Times: “We’ve had three rounds. They haven’t gone well.”
Mr Bassett told Express.co.uk: “This would be the major story in Ireland if it was not for the coronavirus.
“There is now a growing realisation in Dublin that the UK is deadly serious about its desire to leave the EU customs union and single market at the end of the year.
“Given the snail-like pace of the negotiations with Brussels, it is highly probable that there will be no full free trade agreement in place by January.
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It was possible the EU and Uk would be able to agree a limited number of deals governing individual sectors in areas such aviation, but an overall deal was looking difficult, Mr Bassett said, albeit “not entirely impossible”.
Arrangements for the Irish border were also a hurdle, Mr Bassett predicted.
He explained: “In these circumstances, the Irish Government will be looking to London to uphold its commitments in the Withdrawal Agreement in relation to Northern Ireland.
“It is clear that the UK is very lukewarm on the Northern Ireland Protocol and even if it implements it, it will do so in a manner which does not satisfy Brussels.
“It may even abrogate it, stating that it was signed in the expectation that Brussels would agree to a free trade deal with London, on the lines of other third countries such as Canada.
“However this has not come to pass.”
Mr Bassett concluded: “Whatever the outcome, the EU may try to insist on inspections of goods entering the Irish Republic from Northern Ireland, namely a border on the island of Ireland.
“No Irish Government could agree to that request, hence the dilemma facing the Irish Government.
“There is extreme nervousness in Irish Government circles on the issue.”