A Brexit deal could be possible as early as this week, Ireland’s deputy prime minister said Monday, after a weekend of intense talks between Britain and the EU. With time running out before a crucial EU summit on Thursday, diplomats are warning the two sides are still some way apart on the vital question of how to manage trade and customs on the island of Ireland.
As talks between officials restarted in Brussels, Irish deputy PM and foreign minister Simon Coveney urged caution but said a deal to avoid Britain crashing out without divorce arrangements in place could be reached.
“A deal is possible and it’s possible this month. It may even be possible this week, but we’re not there yet,” Coveney told reporters as he arrived for talks with EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg.
“As (EU negotiator) Michel Barnier said yesterday, there’s still a lot of work to be done so I hope that we can make more progress today.”
“On Brexit the less we say now the better,” he added, implying that delicate negotiations are taking place that are better kept under wraps for now.
“I think it’s pretty clear what we’re trying to do, but there are pretty detailed technical discussions now and I think we need to give the time and space for that to happen.”
Barnier, the bloc’s chief Brexit negotiator, briefed EU ambassadors late Sunday after a weekend of talks between officials described as “intense” and “constructive”.
After weeks of gloom the last few days have given a glimmer of hope that an agreement can be reached, but there has so far been no decisive breakthrough.
Other European foreign ministers were cautious but Luxembourg’s Jean Asselborn said he believed a deal was possible.
Asked if a deal could be done this week, Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Borrell said: “We hope so. Hope is the last thing to be lost.”
Barnier will brief a gathering of EU ministers in Luxembourg on Tuesday to prepare Thursday and Friday’s summit, held under the pressure of the October 31 Brexit deadline just two weeks away.