British and Irish ministers said Friday (2) they were “very close” to agreeing how to keep open the land border between them after Brexit, which is holding up a divorce deal with the EU.
“I think we’re very close to resolving it, I certainly hope we are,” Irish Foreign minister Simon Coveney told reporters after talks in Dublin.
British Cabinet Office minister David Lidington told the same press conference, “We’re certainly, as Simon says, very close to resolving it.”
He added that negotiations in Brussels now need to “continue and intensify further”.
But neither minister gave details of how they were going to break the impasse over the border, which has prompted fears that Britain could leave the European Union without a deal next March.
Britain intends to leave the bloc’s single market and customs union, meaning the border between its province of Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland will become an external EU frontier after Brexit.
Both sides have pledged to ensure no physical infrastructure, such as customs checks, but disagree over how this can be achieved if and until they agree a new trade deal that would resolve the issue.
Lidington was in Dublin for the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, a forum for talks between the two countries established under the 1998 Northern Ireland peace agreement.
His colleague Dominic Raab, Britain’s Brexit minister, visited Northern Ireland on Friday where he met with local politicians and businesses.
It emerged this week that Raab believes a Brexit deal can be finalised with the EU by November 21, although Prime minister Theresa May’s office was more cautious.
Coveney warned in Paris on Wednesday (31) that if there was to be a breakthrough this month, “we need the negotiating teams to find a way forward in the next week or so”.
The Irish minister revealed Friday that Dublin was in daily contact with the team of EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier in Brussels.