Bertie Ahern, who in the 1990s worked closely with then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair to achieve the Good Friday peace accord for Northern Ireland, said a Brexit deal is possible if the UK and European Union exchange concessions. These would involve the EU backing down over its fishing demands around access to British coastal waters, and London pledging to align with Brussels’ standards in a move that wouldn’t undercut the trading bloc. But he warned a repeat of the gaffes made during Boris Johnson‘s recent dinner with Ursula Von der Leyen could have a disastrous effect.
He predicted the UK and EU negotiating teams could succeed “as long as Boris doesn’t have any more dinners and makes a mess of it again.”
Mr Ahern was making reference to a dinner which Mr Johnson held with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Brussels last Wednesday.
After three hours of talks, the two leaders failed to break the stalemate in trade negotiations, with both sides increasingly further apart on a number of issues.
EU sources indicated Mr Johnson misread the room and upset EU chiefs by requesting discussions with Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s Emmanuel Macron.
Mr Ahern said the Prime Minister’s “bluster” does not reflect well in Brussels but has backed the UK to stick by their principles on fishing.
He told Politico: “They’re being asked to stick to a system that dates to 1973.
“Denmark, Holland and France catch about 550,000 tons of fish in U.K. waters, and the UK catch only 94,000 tons in EU waters.
“It seems to me that if, with a bit of give and take, the British will get the balance on the fisheries against the EU’s level playing field.
The former Prime minister concluded: “It was a huge mistake, particularly when the pandemic hit, to insist that the Brexit transition period ends on the 31st of December.
“Trade deals can take years to conclude.
“Trying to do this in a single year in the middle of a global pandemic was never a good idea.”
The UK and EU continue to be locked in trade talks durinf meetings in Brussels in a last-ditch attemp to get a deal between the two sides over the line before the transition period deadline expires on December 31.
Following their meeting in the Belgian capital last week, Mr Johnson and Ms von der Leyen had said the future direction of trade talks would be decided by the end of last weekend and on Sunday, both said negotiations would continue.
On Wednesday morning, the EU chief could not say if there would be a trade deal with Britain.
But she said progress had been made in talks although the issues of fisheries and the level playing field are still stumbling blocks.
Ms von der Leyen told the European Parliament in Brussels: “As things stand, I cannot tell you whether there will be a deal or not.
“But I can tell you that there is a path to an agreement now. The path may be very narrow but it is there.
“We have found a way forward on most issues but two issues still remain outstanding: the level playing field and fisheries.
“I am glad to report that issues linked to governance now have largely been resolved.
“The next days are going to be decisive.”