Brexit: Britain’s ‘emotional’ nationalism risks a no-deal, Irish foreign minister warns

Deal not a high priority for EU anymore, Simon Coveney says

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Tuesday 29 September 2020 09:29 BST
Brexit briefing: How long until the end of the transition period?

A no-deal in Brexit talks could be on its way, driven by emotion and nationalism on the British side, Ireland's foreign minister has warned.

Simon Coveney, a veteran of Brexit talks, said he feared both sides would fail to reach an agreement, especially given a trade deal with the UK was a relatively low priority for the EU side compared to other issues post-Covid.

"Nobody wants to be paying tariffs or having unnecessary disruption to trade between the EU and the UK. But I do think that the way in which the British political system deals with Brexit is incredibly inward-looking," Mr Coveney told the Irish Sunday Independent.

"It's focused on British politics, it's driven by pride, emotion, nationalism, as opposed to the detail of what's required to get a trade deal and the compromises that are required to do that."

The foreign minister said some people in the UK were indulging in a "fantasy" that a trade deal was more important to Europe than the UK, adding that "the idea that actually a trade deal with the UK is going to be No.1 or No.2 or No.3 or No.4 on the priority list for the EU, in my view, is very unlikely".

He said other issues like finalising the EU's own budget, reforming the Common Agricultural Policy, migration, and the coronavirus economic recovery would take precedence.

His warning comes after reports that EU leaders may not intervene in Brexit discussions at next month's EU summit in Brussels – a blow for those on the British side who want leaders to change course to facilitate a deal.

"I fear no deal. I mean from an Irish perspective, a no deal is really bad news; from a UK perspective, a no deal is equally a really bad news story. But for many countries in the EU, this is an important issue but it is not the priority like it was this time last year because Covid has changed a lot and many countries are now dealing with more immediate and fundamental issues," he told the newspaper.

The Independent reported on Sunday that the European Parliament has drawn a "red line" on letting talks push past October, citing technical and administrative reasons.

The intervention dashes hopes of a last-minute deal struck in November or December while the looming threat of no-deal concentrates minds.

Speaking on Sunday morning Labour MP and former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said: "I think there's a very real danger that we will leave without a proper deal and that will be disastrous in many ways."

In an interview with the Mail on Sunday newspaper, the UK’s chief negotiator David Frost said the UK was not scared of walking away from talks. By contrast he claimed Theresa May had "blinked and had its bluff called".

“A lot of what we are trying to do this year is to get them to realise that we mean what we say and they should take our position seriously," Lord Frost, who was recently ennobled by Boris Johnson, said.

The peer claimed the UK was not going to be a “client state” of the EU, adding: "I don't think that we are scared of this at all. We want to get back the powers to control our borders and that is the most important thing."

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