Brexit: EU confirms talks on trade deal with UK won’t start before end of February – live news | Politics

Simon Coveney, the Irish foreign minister and deputy PM, told reporters after a meeting in Brussels with Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, that it would be a mistake for the British to underestimate the determination of the EU not to allow the UK an unfair competitive advantage after Brexit. He said:

The key issue here is around level playing field issues. There is no way the EU will ever sign up to a trade deal that allows tariff free, quota free and frictionless access to UK goods coming into the EU if there isn’t a level playing field in terms of how they’re produced, because that would be unfair competition …

From an Irish perspective I think there will be very strong solidarity across the EU, as there was in the first round of Brexit negotiations.

Last week Newsnight’s Nicholas Watt reported that there are UK ministers who believe Britain will have the advantage of being able to exploit supposed EU divisions in the post-Brexit trade talks. Coveney’s words challenge that analysis.

Coveney also voiced his concerns about the short timetable for completing a deal and establishing the effective customs border in the Irish Sea stipulated in the withdrawal agreement. He said:

Because of the decisions the British prime minister has made, time is going to be very short. We have a lot to do and not much time to do it. That is why the mandate and approach the EU will take is important.

The other thing that is very important from an Irish perspective is the full implementation of the [withdrawal agreement] and the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland because … the guarantees that have been provided to prevent border infrastructure being necessary between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland require new structures are put in place, new committees are put in place in terms of managing the trade relationship between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

And we all know what is in that protocol and there is a lot of work to ensure that is in place in plenty of time. So those structures need to be put in place in parallel with progressing the negotiations and discussions on future relationship and future trade deal … From an Irish perspective that is really important for obvious reasons.

Simon Coveney speaking to journalists in Brussels today.

Simon Coveney speaking to journalists in Brussels today. Photograph: John Thys/AFP via Getty Images

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