Belfast Telegraph

Tough talk on Brexit 'has only hardened people's attitudes'

By Sarah Collins

Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has hit out at loose talk on Brexit that he says has "hardened" positions on both sides.

Speaking a day after his cabinet colleague Michael Creed claimed in a newspaper interview that there was a lack of political coherence and leadership from the UK, Mr Coveney said politicians needed to take care.

"All of us who comment on Brexit publicly - whether it's in the Irish government, whether it's in the British government, or in other European countries - I think the level of seriousness that we need to be addressing this with now means that we need to be careful with what we say," Mr Coveney told reporters in Brussels on Monday, when asked about Mr Creed's comments.

"Some of that commentary is unhelpful, I have to say - and it's not just on the British side. Some of the tough talk that we've seen in relation to Brexit on both sides, I think, has actually probably hardened views," Mr Coveney said.

"What we need to do now is focus on the real negotiation."

He was speaking to reporters in Brussels as a second round of Brexit talks got underway, where negotiators focused on citizens' rights and the UK's EU budget obligations.

Mr Coveney said he hoped for "political acknowledgement of what needs to be achieved in terms of outcome" on the border, but that customs checks were a "non-starter".

"What we do not want is to pretend here that we can solve the problems of the border on the island of Ireland through technical solutions like cameras and pre-registration and so on," Mr Coveney said.

"That is not going to work."

He also said the UK is not being "realistic" about the kind of future trade deal it can get with the EU if it insists on leaving the single market and customs union.

"Some of the expectations that are being set, particularly in the UK, in terms of what's possible here - particularly around the ability to be able to negotiate free trade agreements with countries all over the world while at the same time having open barrier-free access to the single market - I don't think that's realistic, and I think it's important to say that," Mr Coveney said.

EU and UK negotiators were without their political masters in Brussels for the talks.

David Davis, Theresa May's Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, left after an hour-long meeting with EU negotiator Michel Barnier. He is expected to return for the conclusion of talks on Thursday.

"It's incredibly important we now make good progress," Mr Davis told reporters ahead of the meeting, "that we negotiate through this and identify the differences, so that we can deal with them".

A spokesperson for the Department for Exiting the European Union said both sides had "started the serious business of working through our positions in a number of areas".

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