Ireland lashes out at shadowy Brexit ‘hawks’ in No10 – before hinting at EU cave-in

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Foreign minister Simon Coveney claimed the move to overwrite the Northern Ireland Protocol in last year’s divorce deal was orchestrated by former Vote Leave aides in Downing Street to prevent Prime Minister Boris Johnson from softening his position in the wrangling with Brussels. Despite the bloc’s threat to walk away from the future relationship talks, Mr Coveney insisted a free-trade agreement could calm British nerves over state subsidies and customs procedures in the Withdrawal Agreement. “The negotiations were going in a way that was building pressure on the British Government to compromise on some things they had agreed to do – like agree with the EU a level playing field, so we’d have fair competition between the UK and EU markets,” he said.

“Last weekend, the hawks within No10 managed to convince the Prime Minister to take a much more aggressive approach to these negotiations, where effectively the UK Government is saying to the EU and Ireland ‘Give us what we want in these negotiations’… some of which is not consistent with international law’.

“In many ways, it’s an extraordinary approach to take in a negotiation with a partner you’re looking to build a future relationship with.”

Mr Coveney said he doesn’t believe Mr Johnson wanted to use the legislation to force through a no-deal Brexit with the bloc.

He added: “I think the British Prime Minister does want a deal, but he has a strange way of going about it.”

Informal trade talks will resume this week between Lord Frost, Britain’s lead negotiator with the EU, and his counterpart Michel Barnier.

The pair have committed to continue their work on a free-trade agreement despite the furious row over the Government’s Internal Market Bill.

Mr Coveney insisted the EU “needs to understand what are the real issues the UK has that need to be solved” with the Northern Ireland border fix agreed as part of last year’s divorce deal.

The Irish minister said the Government’s concerns the EU could use the Withdrawal Agreement to cut off the province from mainland Great Britain can be eased in any final trade deal.

“We need to try and resolve these issues in the appropriate place, which is the Joint Committee, the specialised committee, and negotiating rooms in a way that’s consistent with the Withdrawal Agreement,” he added.

“That’s where the focus needs to be now so we can concentrate on the bigger prize which is the basic trade deal that avoids the nightmare scenario for Britain and Ireland, and to a lesser extent the rest of the EU, where by January 1 there is no deal in place.”

Mr Coveney said the lack of a deal will spark a “lot of acrimony” between the UK and EU as they conduct business on world trade terms.

In a war of words, yesterday the EU’s Mr Barnier dismissed the Government’s claim the Northern Ireland Protocol could be used to break up the UK.

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He urged Mr Johnson to “stick to the facts” on the compromise agreed last year.

And he rejected claims that Brussels could ban exports of UK food and livestock if there was no trade deal.

Lord Frost hit back over the bloc’s third country listing for approved exporters.

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He said: “It has been made clear to us in the current talks that there is no guarantee of listing us.

“I am afraid it has also been said to us explicitly in these talks that if we are not listed we will not be able to move food to Northern Ireland.”

The Commisison refused to comment on the row, insisting the EU had “played a straight bat” after being accused of threatening a “food blockade” on Northern Ireland.

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