DUBLIN (Reuters) - Trade talks between Britain and the European Union will hit a crisis point unless there is progress the coming weeks, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney warned on Tuesday.
But he said the EU would not back down on its insistence that progress is made on fisheries and level-playing-field provisions in parallel to trade talks.
Coveney was speaking after consulting with chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier ahead of more EU-UK talks starting next Monday - one of two rounds remaining before the European Union makes an assessment of progress in early June.
The EU’s tortuous Brexit talks with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government were renewed in late April, but quickly hit snags, according to Brussels diplomats and officials who put the blame only partly on the coronavirus pandemic.
“The truth is that progress has not been good,” Coveney told RTE radio. “The necessary progress really isn’t there.”
“Unless there is significant progress in those negotiating rounds then I think we are going to reach yet another crisis point in the Brexit negotiations, which from the Irish point of view is very, very serious,” Coveney said.
The end of June also marks the deadline for the two sides to agree on any extension of negotiations beyond the end of the year, something Britain has ruled out.
A hard Brexit without a new trade deal in place is “a distinct possibility,” acting Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who is in talks with rivals about forming a new government, said last week.
If Britain sticks to its refusal to extend, talks would need to be concluded by early November to allow time for ratification, Coveney said.
After briefing national EU envoys to Brussels, Barnier said: “Progress on all issues in parallel is required in order to build a new, ambitious partnership with the UK.”
When talks resume next week, the EU will continue to insist on progress on its priorities of fisheries and level-playing-field provisions, including in areas such as tax and state aid, not just on the pure trade talks.
“The UK seems to want to simply pick the areas where they want to deal early and solely focus on those,” Coveney also said. “The EU has made it very clear that that is not an approach that they can work with.”
Britain, which is pushing for a basic free trade agreement, says the EU is making demands not sought from other trading partners. It says it won’t accept measures that would tie it to European standards.
Britain also launched trade negotiations with the United States by videoconference on Tuesday.
Reporting by Conor Humphries and Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Peter Graff and Giles Elgood