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Brexit trade talks 'coming at us like freight train', says Coveney

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Simon Coveney gave colleagues an ‘alarming’ Brexit memo

Simon Coveney gave colleagues an ‘alarming’ Brexit memo

Collins Dublin, Gareth Chaney

Simon Coveney gave colleagues an ‘alarming’ Brexit memo

Tanaiste Simon Coveney has warned that Brexit is "coming at us like a freight train" as cabinet ministers were given an "alarming" update on the state of forthcoming trade talks between the EU and the UK.

With the General Election entering its final week and the UK formally leaving the EU tomorrow night, Mr Coveney and EU Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan issued dire warnings about the potential failure of trade negotiations between the EU and the UK.

Mr Coveney outlined the consequences of a no-trade deal scenario, including Irish beef being hit with 50pc export tariffs and Irish fishermen being unable to fish in British waters.

Complacency

Meanwhile, Mr Hogan said the riskiest part of Brexit negotiations has yet to come and said he was "very concerned" by "a lot of complacency" in Ireland about the next phase, with a crash-out Brexit still possible.

"If things had gone wrong in the first part of the negotiations, you can consider in the context of a general election what this would have meant for manifestos in terms of income, in terms of wages, in terms of jobs, the possible economic rupture in terms of a crash out Brexit," he told RTE.

Fianna Fail last night accused Mr Hogan of trying to "whip up fear" to help Fine Gael's election campaign.

Brexit spokesperson Lisa Chambers said: "I think the timing of all of this is co-ordinated to coincide with the general campaign to ramp up a bit of fear to try and get the public to focus on Brexit when they are focused on health and housing.

"I don't think he [Mr Hogan] should be doing that, I don't think he should be assisting the Tanaiste to try and whip up fear on this issue."

Mr Hogan's spokesman said the Commissioner had nothing to add to his remarks.

With British Prime Minister Boris Johnson insisting his government will not seek an extension to Brexit trade talks, Mr Coveney said this will mean "we will have to make difficult choices before the summer".

The UK will leave the EU tomorrow and the European Commission will publish its draft negotiation mandate for trade talks on Monday.

Mr Coveney briefed cabinet colleagues on the Brexit state of play at a meeting in Dublin with a memo that a Government source described as "alarming".

Senior Government officials believe that despite his previous U-turns, Mr Johnson, bolstered by a strong mandate in last month's general election, will not renege on his commitment to leave the EU even if a trade deal is not struck by the end of this year.

"The UK are very unlikely to seek an extension of the transition period by mid-summer, which is when they would have to do it," Mr Coveney said yesterday.

"Because of that timeline the UK effectively decided to put themselves in a straitjacket. The approach to the negotiations from the European Union will be tailored to that time and that will force choices, but it will also force a very intense negotiation very quickly."

Demanding

Meanwhile, Irish MEP Mairead McGuinness shut down Nigel Farage's flag-waving during his final speech at the European Parliament.

Farage was greeted by cheers and the waving of union jack flags by his party's MEPs as he declared Britain was "never coming back".

But McGuinness, a member of Fine Gael and the parliament's vice president, said: "If you disobey the rules, you get cut off. Please sit down, resume your seats, put your flags away - you're leaving - and take them with you."

In his final speech, Mr Farage insisted there could be no turning back once Britain was out.

"This is it, the final chapter, the end of the road, a 47-year political experiment that the British frankly have never been very happy with," he said.