Ireland has been central in the three years of intense Brexit talks and meetings as it is the only European Union country which shares a significant land border with the UK. EU leaders have since been insistent a withdrawal agreement is not possible without the approval of the Irish Government, which has battled to avoid a hard border on the island. But this privileged access to top negotiators in Brussels, including Michel Barnier, will now be heavily impacted, according to the Irish Independent.
A confidential memo presented to Cabinet ministers by Tainiste (deputy prime minister) Simon Coveney on November, which proved an update on Brexit, warned Ireland’s access to the negotiators, which has been a crucial feature of the three-year Brexit process, will be more restricted once trade talks begin between the UK and EU.
Ministers have been warned Ireland “will no longer have the same degree of privileged access into the negotiation process”.
In a section contained within the document on Ireland’s position on the future UK-EU relationship negotiations, it warned the Government will have to identify its “offensive” and “defensive” interests.
The document said: “This is particularly the case as, in this phase, Ireland will no longer have the same degree of privileged access into the negotiation process which was linked to the priority accorded to Irish issues in the withdrawal agreement phase.”
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It added engaging with domestic stakeholders, allies in the EU and building strong relations with Mr Barnier’s Brexit task force and the European Commission will be “critical”.
The border between the Republic and the North has been the most contentious issue so far in the long-running Brexit crisis.
It has also been the main reason Theresa May could not get her Brexit deal through Parliament on three separate occasions.
The troubles continued for Boris Johnson when he took over as Prime Minister, and was only resolved following a summit with Mr Varadkar in October.
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But Remainers in Westminster were still furious at the backstop proposal, and after Mr Johnson lost several key vote in the House of Commons, he was forced to ask the EU for another extension to Brexit until January 31, 2020.
But the Prime Minister is hoping to ratify his deal in Parliament if he is able to secure a majority following next Thursday’s general election.
The Prime Minister wants a comprehensive trade deal hammered out with Brussels by the December 2020 deadline.
But the memo went onto add the warned his hopes of wrapping up an agreement by the end of next year are “unrealistic”.
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The document said the year-long timeline is “very demanding” given the UK’s current position on regulatory divergence from the EU.
Mr Coveney has already suggested trade talks between London and Brussels could take at least four years.
But Mark Littlewood, director general of the Institute of economic Affairs (IEA) has predicted a deal will be struck just before the December 2020 deadline.
He told BBC News: “Whatever window of opportunity you have, you tend to make very little progress in the first 90 percent of that timeline and suddenly everything gets done at midnight or one minute after midnight as you reach the deadline.
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“While you can’t say with absolute certainty, I would expect with goodwill on both sides, an EU-UK free trade deal can be over the line in 2020 but I bet it is likely to be December 2020 than any earlier.”
Mr Littlewood admitted trade deals with the EU are “notoriously difficult to strike” and can take up to seven years from conception to delivery.
But he outlined how the UK will find it easier to agree such a deal, and said: “We can negotiate exclusively in the interests of the UK when we are trying to sign trade deals without worrying what anyone else think of it.
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“Independent countries signing trade deals have been more efficient in getting them over the line than the EU has over the last couple of decades.
“In negotiating a trade deal with the EU, you start with a great advantage because when the EU and Canada sat down to work out what their trade deal would be, they started from very different regulatory systems.
“When we sit down with the EU, our regulatory systems will be perfectly aligned – we start very close to each other and that should make it enormously easier to get a UK-EU trade deal than it was to get an EU-Canada trade deal.”