Brexit: Ireland will demand limits on trade deal power to move EU talks on

Irish Deputy Prime Minister said 'certain parameters' would have to be agreed between Britain and the UK before talks could move on, and they could limit the UK's power to sign future free trade deals 

Tom Peck
Friday 01 December 2017 11:35 GMT
Irish Foreign Minister Leo Varadkar was appointed Deputy Prime Minister on Thursday
Irish Foreign Minister Leo Varadkar was appointed Deputy Prime Minister on Thursday (Brian Lawless/PA Wire/PA Images)

Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney has said that “certain parameters” will need to be agreed between Ireland and the UK, before it will allow negotiations with the EU to move on to trade talks, which could have the potential to severely restrict the UK’s ability to sign free trade deals with other countries.

Mr Coveney told the BBC’s Today Programme that Dublin would not “leap into the dark” by allowing negotiations to move on, and would insist on reassurances that the UK would not significantly deviate from EU standards after Brexit, which trade deals with other countries, particularly the US, might require it to.

He said in talks with the UK ahead of the December 14 summit, the Irish Government wants to secure "an agreed wording whereby we can agree the parameters within which we can find a solution that prevents the re-emergence of the border on the island of Ireland and all the negative consequences that flow from that".

"We believe it's possible to do that," he told the Today programme. "The area that we've focused in on is the need to give reassurance that there will not be regulatory divergence between the two jurisdictions on the island of Ireland, because if there is, then it is very hard to avoid a checking system.

"If you have different standards in terms of food safety, animal welfare, animal health, if you have different standards in relation to medical devices and the approval of drugs, how then can you maintain practical north/south co-operation as we have it today, if that regulatory divergence appears after Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK leaves the European Union."

The question of regulatory divergence or convergence is central to the Brexit process.

If the UK agrees to maintain or nearly maintain EU standards in areas like medicine and agriculture, the prospects of a border on the island of Ireland enforced through technological means is more realistic.

But if it seeks to alter significantly from European Union standards, which US negotiators might require as a precursor for any free trade agreement, it would pose significant problems both for the movement of goods between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, but also exports from Ireland to the rest of the UK, which currently accounts for 60 per cent of Irish exports.

US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross has previously indicated the UK would likely have to accept some US food standards, including chlorine-washed chicken. Environment Secretary Michael Gove has said he would not allow the lowering of food standards in the UK.

European Council President Donald Tusk is meeting Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar in Dublin today. Next week Mr Tusk is meeting Theresa May, with the UK hoping the EU will announce that "significant progress" has now been made on the Irish border question, citizen's rights and the "divorce" settlement to allow the talks to move on to trade.

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