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Irish border row puts EU-UK trade deal at risk

By Hugh Wilson

The UK must honour sea border commitments or risk even ‘bare bones’ deal

Simon Coveney, Irish foreign minister API

The EU has warned that the UK will put even the most basic trade deal at risk if it fails to honour commitments to check goods crossing the Irish sea.

Speaking to reporters in Brussels, Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney said the EU expects to see progress on the requisite infrastructure in the next few months, or “that’s going to be a very worrying signal for whether or not it’s going to be possible to conclude something sensible before the end of the year.”

“If that doesn’t happen, it will damage significantly the prospects of being able to get even a bare bones trade agreement by the end of the year.”

Coveney was responding to reports at the weekend that UK prime minister Boris Johnson might try to avoid sea checks on goods passing from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

The presence of sea checks is considered crucial by the EU if it is to protect the legitimacy of the single European market. Tariffs would apply on goods travelling between Britain and Northern Ireland if those goods were destined for Ireland or elsewhere in the EU. Britain has said it will not introduce land checks between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

Coverney’s statement was the latest broadside in a war of words that has erupted between the sides ahead of the start of negotiations next week.

The EU is offering quota-free access to EU markets if the UK agrees to adhere to EU environmental, labour and state aid standards, but Johnson has ruled out complying with EU regulations.

He wants a trade deal similar to the one the EU has with Canada. The EU’s Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has ruled out that possibility, saying the UK’s potential impact on the single market was far greater than Canada’s and required a different agreement.

FURTHER READING: EU-UK transition deal will lead to goods-only agreement, say economists

FURTHER READING: Brexit companies flock to the Netherlands

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