Europe

Brexit: 'Dose of reality needed' over new deal hopes

Simon Coveney Image copyright PA Media
Image caption A no-deal Brexit would be damaging and difficult, says Simon Coveney

There is still a "wide gap" between the UK and EU in their talks about a new Brexit deal, the Irish deputy prime minister has said.

Simon Coveney said "everyone needs a dose of reality" after reports had emerged that progress had been made.

Speaking on Friday, he said the EU was still waiting for "serious proposals" from the UK for an alternative to the Irish border backstop.

The backstop has been the key sticking point in the Brexit deal debate.

It is the controversial policy aimed at preventing the return of a hard border on the island of Ireland after Brexit, unless and until another solution is found.

It was a key part of the withdrawal agreement struck with the EU by former prime minister Theresa May and some MPs' opposition to the policy led to the deal being rejected three times by Parliament.

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Mr Coveney told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "There is still quite a wide gap between what the British government have been talking about in terms of the solutions they are proposing and what Ireland and the EU can support.

'Damaging and difficult'

He said that while the "mood music" had improved they two sides were "not close to that deal right now".

"We've got to be honest... there are serious problems that arise because of the change in approach by the British prime minister," he added.

"Asking to remove a very significant section within the withdrawal agreement that solves many of the Irish issues without any serious proposals on how you solve those problems is not going to be the basis for an agreement."

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The issue of the Irish border has been the key sticking point in the Brexit talks

Mr Coveney also said the Republic of Ireland "is in no doubt what a a no-deal would mean for us", adding that it would be "damaging and difficult and poses huge questions".

Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay is to hold talks with the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier on Friday.

It comes after European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said a new Brexit deal could still be reached before the 31 October deadline.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Thursday he did not want to "exaggerate progress" but some was being made.

He has urged the EU to scrap the backstop and has insisted he wants to leave the EU - with or without a deal - by the end of October.

Suggestions for solution

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has suggested the North-South Ministerial Council (NSMC) could have a role in finding a solution to the deadlock over the Irish border.

It is the main body for cross-border cooperation between the governments of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

The DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson suggested that new arrangements to deal with cross-border trade after Brexit could involve the NSMC.

His party has consistently opposed the backstop but has recently softened its language on the matter, saying it would be open to all-island arrangements on issues such as food standards.

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