Taoiseach Leo Varadkar believes as long as Britain revised written guarantees on the issues currently being debated, Brussels will consider “sufficient progress” and be willing to move towards the highly-anticipated trade talks.
EU chiefs have vowed only to begin trade talks once progression has been made on the ongoing round of divorce talks, which has hit a standstill and prompted rising hostilities between the two sides as they fail to agree on the three major issues; namely the exit bill, the Irish border and citizens’ rights.
Mr Varadkar told the Irish parliament: “I‘m now of the view that it is likely that we will be able to say that sufficient progress has been made at the December (EU leaders) meeting, allowing us to move onto discussions on transition and the future arrangements, but that’s just my prediction at this stage.
“This of course will all depend on what happens over the next number of weeks and what specific assurances and guarantees in writing we can get from the United Kingdom.”
The Irish leader revealed he was more optimistic about the state of Brexit talks than he had been, claiming he thinks talks are “moving in the right direction”.
The Irish border remains a bone of contention among officials in Dublin who are keen to avoid the prospect of a “hard” border – but Mr Varadkar believes this will be resolved when talks move on to the future relationship between Ireland and Britain.
He said: “It’s not going to be possible to fully resolve the border question until we actually start to talk about the future relationship the UK will have with Northern Ireland so there will come a point when it is in our interests to actually start talking about that.”
Earlier this morning, influential MEP Sophie in ’t Veld blasted Britain’s negotiating team and insisted the European Union need a capable partner to negotiate with.
The Vice-Chair of the Liberal and Democrats for Europe attacked Britain’s negotiating position ahead of the sixth round of Brexit talks later today.
Ms in ’t Veld told BBC Radio 4: “A year and half has passed since the Brexit vote and we haven’t moved an inch and the situation is getting very, very worrying.
“Time is running out and we would really really hope that at some point we have a partner to negotiate with.
“This Government has so far not been very clear where it’s going. It’s not really lived up to this motto of strong and stable. So it’s very worrying.”
Meanwhile, EU officials have given Britain between two and three weeks to set out how much it is prepared to pay in the Brexit divorce settlement.
Brussels chiefs have warned that if the UK refuses to meet the tight deadline, the bloc could struggle to prepare a transition deal and risk surpassing the March 2019 Brexit deadline.
Britain is now expected to make a sizeable financial offer this month in order that preliminary transition negotiations can take place at December’s crucial summit.
A senior EU negotiator told the FT: “We need to know soon. There isn’t much time, there are no shortcuts.”
The news comes as UK and EU negotiators prepare to meet in Brussels for the sixth round of Brexit talks amid high tensions following a lack of “sufficient progress” during earlier meetings.
Theresa May is keen for transition talks to get underway as soon as possible to allay businesses’ fears about a cliff-edge Brexit, but the divorce bill has been a sticking point since talks began and remains one of the three major issues – along with the Irish border and citizens’ rights – where little progress has been made.
The EU has given a rough net estimate of £53billion (€60billion) for the Brexit bill, a significantly smaller sum than the reported €100billion first floated by the EU.
However, some Brexiteers are still demanding Britain leaves the bloc without paying a penny.
The British Government is keen for the EU to offer more certainty that the bloc will reciprocate and simultaneously agree the outlines of a transition deal in December before any divorce bill is paid.