Brexit deal ‘within reach’ with compromise as politicians discuss Irish-British relations

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Press Association
Michel Barnier has insisted that both sides in the post-Brexit trade negotiations must be willing to compromise as efforts continued to restart the stalled process.

The European Union’s chief negotiator insisted an agreement was “within reach” despite being rebuffed in efforts to continue formal discussions this week.

It comes as the future of Irish-British relations post-Brexit was discussed by Irish and British politicians this morning.

TDs and Senators from the Joint Oireachtas Committee on European Union Affairs discussed Britain's exit from the EU with members of the House of Lords Select Committee in a virtual meeting.

The Internal Market Bill, which would allow the UK government to break international law, was heavily defeated in the House of Lords yesterday.

There is still a very narrow possibility of a deal, but it is going to require not only the British to change their position but unfortunately those of us on the European side to perhaps reflect that.

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Ahead of the meeting, member of the European Affairs committee Fine Gael TD Neale Richmond said Irish politicians would stress the importance of a Brexit deal.

“There is still a very narrow possibility of a deal, but it is going to require not only the British to change their position but unfortunately those of us on the European side to perhaps reflect that and react, and take a step back from some of the vitriol that we see coming out of Westminster,” he said.

“A no deal Brexit would be so very bad for Ireland, for the UK.”

EU-UK negotiations

Mr Barnier and his counterpart David Frost, Boris Johnson’s Europe adviser, have remained in touch but the negotiations have been in limbo since last week’s European Council summit failed to produce a breakthrough.

The UK Government has insisted that there must be a fundamental change of approach from Brussels, with Mr Barnier demonstrating that the EU will compromise in key areas.

Downing Street said Mr Barnier’s comments were “significant” and Mr Frost would speak to him later on Wednesday.

The main stumbling blocks remain fishing rights, the governance of any deal and the “level playing field” aimed at preventing unfair competition, which includes state subsidies.

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Time is short to reach an agreement before the end of the transition period on December 31st.

Mr Barnier told the European Parliament: “Our door remains open. It will remain open right up until the last day when we can work together.”

But he said “it takes two to make a deal”, adding: “We are not sure that’s the outcome we will obtain and that’s why we need to be ready to deal with the consequences of a possible no-deal scenario.”

Extending an olive branch to the UK, Mr Barnier indicated the EU was willing to make compromises – but only if Mr Johnson also agreed to give ground.

Despite the difficulties we’ve faced, an agreement is within reach if both sides are willing to work constructively, if they are willing to compromise.

“We will seek the necessary compromises on both sides in order to do our utmost to reach an agreement and we will do so right up until the last day which it’s possible to do so,” he said.

A Number 10 spokesman said: “We note with interest that the EU’s negotiator, speaking to the European Parliament this morning, has commented in a significant way on the issues behind the current difficulties in our talks.

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“We are studying carefully what was said.

“David Frost will discuss the situation when he speaks to Michel Barnier later today.”

European Council president Charles Michel told MEPs: “We want a deal but not at any cost.”

He added: “You can’t have your cake and eat it too”.

In London, Mr Johnson’s efforts to win over business leaders to his approach ran into difficulties after a “pointless” call with bosses.

The Prime Minister and Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove addressed around 250 business leaders on Tuesday, insisting the UK would prosper either with or without an EU trade deal.

“There is a big opportunity for this country and we want to help all of you to seize that opportunity,” the Prime Minister said.

But one of the business leaders on the conference call told the PA news agency: “The whole thing was over in 23 minutes. There was no opportunity to ask questions and it was completely choreographed.

“Only three people were allowed to ask questions, set up in advance, and we were essentially told ‘it will all be fine’.”

The session was described as “a little bit of a ramble and a lot of posturing”.

“It was a wasted 23 minutes of my life. It was pointless,” the source said.

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