Ireland’s prime minister has said he is “hopeful” a Brexit free-trade deal can be made this week, after leaders warned time is “running out”.
Speaking to the Irish Times, Prime Minister Micheal Martin said British and EU negotiators have now reached an “endgame”.
“It will require political will to conclude the deal and there are options to conclude the deal, and so on balance, I would be hopeful that it can be done at the end of this week,” he said.
However, Mr Martin had expressed similar hopefulness of an imminent agreement last week.
Boris Johnson and Mr Martin spoke on the phone on Friday to discuss progress in the negotiations, with the UK prime minister “underlining his commitment to reaching a deal that respects the sovereignty of the UK”.
The leaders had also spoken of a need to prioritise the Good Friday Agreement and avoiding a hard border with Ireland, a Number 10 spokesperson said.
There have been concerns from other quarters that trade deal talks could stretch into next week, with compromises still to be made on state aid, enforcement and fishing.
The Brexit transition period ends on 31 December after the UK formally left the EU in January.
Both sides had agreed a deal should be struck by mid-October to give enough time for the agreements to be implemented.
Still, talks have continued in stalemate and an EU source said on Monday that “massive divergences” remain.
Discussions stretched late into the night on Sunday, with the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier telling reporters “there are reasons for determination”.
In a warning to negotiators, Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney said “we are running out of time here”.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel echoed his remarks, saying some EU member states were losing patience.
“We hope that the negotiations will have a good end,” she said. “We don’t need a deal at any price and we have made this clear… A deal is in everyone’s interest.”
A Downing Street spokesperson said there has been some progress but “there still remains divergence on issues [such as] fisheries and the level playing field”.
“We want to try and reach a free trade agreement as soon as possible but we’ve been clear we won’t change our negotiating position,” they added.
Securing a deal would safeguard trade, as well as reinforcing peace in Northern Ireland – although there is expected to be disruption at the busiest EU-UK border points.
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