Belfast Telegraph

Significant gaps remain over custom issues – Varadkar

Ireland’s foreign affairs minister told reporters that securing a deal will require ‘a big step forward’ from the negotiating teams.

Leo Varadkar meeting with Boris Johnson (Leo Varadkar/PA)
Leo Varadkar meeting with Boris Johnson (Leo Varadkar/PA)

By Cate McCurry, PA

Boris Johnson has told the Irish premier he is “confident” he could get a new Brexit deal voted through the British Parliament.

Leo Varadkar said, however, that there are a number of hurdles to overcome before a revised Withdrawal Agreement can be put before the House of Commons.

The Taoiseach admitted that the gap in the Brexit negotiations between the EU and UK teams remains “significant”, particularly on customs issues.

When probed about the Brexit discussions, he told reporters that he had a “crazy day” and would receive an update later on Tuesday, but stated that the initial indications from Brussels is that progress is being made and negotiations are moving in the “right direction”.

“Whether we will be able to conclude a revised Withdrawal Agreement, which is an international treaty, in time for the summit, that’s as of now unclear,” he added.

“The Prime Minster said to me if we can come to an agreement between the EU and the UK that he was confident he would be able to get it through the House of Commons.

“But of course, there’s a few hurdles between now and then. We first have to come to an agreement on negotiator level and secondly would have to be approved at European Council and third go to the House of Commons.”

Mr Varadkar said that while he and Mr Johnson had a “broad meeting of minds” on the key Brexit stumbling blocks, turning that into legal text is “a different thing”.

“Our objectives have always been the same, it’s to avoid a hard border North and South and allow the all-island economy to thrive and to allow North/South co-operation to resume as envisaged by the Good Friday Agreement and ensure the integrity of the single market and our place in it,” he added.

“These discussions are happening in Brussels. I will get a further briefing this evening so the situation may have changed in the last few hours but the gap was still quite wide, particularly on the issue of customs,” he added.

His comments come as Ireland’s deputy premier said he remains hopeful a Brexit deal can be fleshed out before the crucial EU summit.

Simon Coveney rejected claims that a deal cannot be negotiated in time for the EU Summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday

Speaking after his briefing with the European Union’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier in Luxembourg, Mr Coveney warned that a lot of progress needs to be made over the next 24 hours between the EU and UK negotiating teams, who are locked in discussions.

This isn't a time for optimism or pessimism quite frankly, we need to deal with the facts as we see them Simon Coveney

“I don’t think it’s inevitable that they can’t get a deal before the summit,” Mr Coveney said.

“I think what Michel Barnier said today was very clear, that it’s difficult but possible to have a deal between the two negotiating teams this side of the leaders’ summit.

“That means that a lot of progress needs to be made today, but I think that’s doable if there is a willingness on both sides to move this process to conclusion.

“Of course, if that doesn’t happen, well then it leads to another debate in terms of how the leaders will respond to that in the context of whether more time will be needed or whether we can continue discussions into next week on trying to get the job done.”

Ireland’s foreign affairs minister told reporters that securing a deal will require “a big step forward” from the negotiating teams today.

“This isn’t a time for optimism or pessimism quite frankly, we need to deal with the facts as we see them,” he added.

“The negotiating teams have made progress but it’s been slow and they will need to make significant progress today if there is to be a deal that Michel Barnier can report on tomorrow to EU capitals in advance of the leaders’ summit.

“But it’s a matter for legal negotiating teams to get that legal text in place which deals with the politics of this in terms of competing demands from an EU perspective and UK perspective.

“A few things are clear – there will not be negotiations of text at that summit. The EU is very clear on that.”

In order for a deal to be reached ahead of the crucial summit, which has been seen as the cut-off point for a deal, the negotiating teams have to finalise the legal text in the agreement.

Mr Coveney said Tuesday is the “key” day in doing that.

PA

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