Brexit talks between the UK and the EU are coming down to wire, with both sides claiming they want a deal as time is running out.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told local media that the talks were entering “the last week or so.”
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney spoke to Radio Ulster about the state of play.
“The truth of Brexit is now being exposed in terms of the challenges of it,” he said. “This is something that the UK and the EU have to find a way forward on as opposed to focus on a blame game as regards who is at fault.”
Coveney suggested that the UK is using the fisheries issue as leverage to win last-minute concessions in other areas where there are disagreements, such as level playing field requirements.
He said this was a “British negotiating trap” that the EU would not fall for.
“What we are not going to do is to get an agreement in all of these other areas and then allow a situation where the UK side say: ‘Look, we’re not going to allow this whole thing to collapse over fish’, and for us to essentially give Britain what they want over fish,” he said.
“We’re not playing that game,” he added. “If there isn’t an agreement on this the whole thing could fall on the back of it.”
Coveney’s positions were echoed by French European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune, who was quoted by The Guardian as saying: “We have a bit of time left but still a long way to go and if the UK believes that the [limited] time left works in its favor as it has in the past few years, that is not the case.”
“We are still very far from an agreement,” he added. “There can be no agreement unless there is one that gives sustainable and wide-ranging access to British waters.”
“Our terms are known, they are not new,” he said.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman said: “We want to try and reach a free trade agreement as soon as possible. But we have been clear that we won’t change our negotiating position and we have been clear what that position is.”
As anxieties mount both in the UK and EU over a potential no-deal Brexit, German Chancellor Angela Merkel waded into the debate as well.
“We hope that these talks will come to a happy ending. We don’t need an agreement at any price. We want one but otherwise we’ll take measures that are necessary. In any case a deal is in the interest of all,” she said.
“Some member states are now becoming unsettled. There’s not much time left.”
Merkel suggested better access for the UK to EU energy markets in exchange for better access for the EU to UK fishing waters: “Perhaps for some the most tangible are concrete questions, from the British point of view access to energy markets, from our view access to British fishing grounds.”
Meanwhile, Scottish National Party leader and Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon addressed the SNP annual party conference virtually, stressing continued solidarity with the EU.
“You are – and always will be – part of who we are. You are not distant to us. To those of you who have come from other countries to live here in ours, thank you – please stay,” she said.
“To the other countries of the EU, Scotland wants to return. And we hope to do so soon, as an independent member state.”
Sturgeon has pushed for another Scotland independence referendum in light of Brexit, which most Scottish voters opposed.
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