Foreign Minister Simon Coveney – Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s deputy – will today brief the Cabinet on the situation. Speaking about the UK/EU negotiations, a source told the Irish Times: “We’ve had three rounds. They haven’t gone well.”
Mr Coveney will present two alternative scenarios, the first envisaging a bare-bones free trade agreement which includes zero tariffs and zero quotas on goods, including fish, and the second whereby no deal is reached, in which case the UK will leave at the end of the transition period on December 31.
He is expected to present a gloomy assessment, telling ministers talks in Brussels between UK negotiator David Frost and the EU’s Michel Barnier show little sign of progress.
With three rounds of talks now completed, the fourth round is due to begin next week, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson himself due to fly out to Brussels to get a sense of where they are headed.
Mr Coveney will also tell them there is little prospect of the UK asking for an extension to the transition period, with Mr Frost ruling such a move out earlier this week.
Irish ministers will be asked to back the drafting of new Brexit legislation preparing Ireland for a no-deal situation, although it is unlikely to be presented to the Dail – Ireland’s main legislature – before the autumn.
They will also be warned of the potentially devastating impact on the country’s economy is no deal can be reached, in which case Irish agrifood experts to the UK are likely to be clobbered to the tune of one billion euros in tariffs.
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“Of course there have been huge distractions for everybody in the context of COVID-19.
“There are only two rounds of negotiations left before an assessment in mid-summer and one of them is this week.
“The UK seems to want to pick the areas where they want a deal early and solely focus on those, while the EU has made it clear that’s not an approach they can work with.
“In order to get a trade deal we need to know there’s a level playing field so businesses in Ireland are not disadvantaged.”
His downbeat assessment contrasted sharply with that of Mr Varadkar, speaking in January, days before the UK officially left the EU on January 31.
Ireland’s leader predicted the EU would have the “upper hand” in trade talks.
He added: “I think the reality of the situation is that the European Union is a union of 27 member states.
“The UK is only one country. And we have a population and a market of 450 million people.
“The UK, it’s about 60. So if these were two teams up against each other playing football, who do you think has the stronger team? So long as we’re united.”