Ireland wary of UK's optimism for EU trade deal this year

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Ireland Finance minister Paschal Donohoe poses for a photo after an interview in Dublin, Thursday Jan. 30, 2020. Getting a new trade deal between the U.K. and the European Union by the end of the year, as the British government claims will happen, would be a feat "nearly without precedent," says the Irish finance minister. (AP Photo/David Keyton)

DUBLIN – Getting a new trade deal between the U.K. and the European Union by the end of the year — as the British government claims will happen — would be a feat “nearly without precedent,” the Irish finance minister said Thursday.

As the EU and Britain prepare to square off over the terms of their new trade relationship after Brexit happens on Friday night, the Irish government is clear that the talks will be tough. Ireland, which has historic and often troubled ties with Britain, stands to be one of the great losers if the talks fail to make headway.

Britain will have to negotiate in 11 months a trade deal that would normally takes years to achieve. To make things more complicated, Britain wants the freedom to diverge from EU rules and regulations, so new ties on everything from fishing to banking and intelligence would have to be re-examined.

“To get all this done by 2020 would be a timeline that is nearly without precedent," Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Failure to agree by that deadline would bring up — once again — the prospect of severe disruption to trade relations. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said he would not seek to extend past 2020 the transition period that will allow current trading rules to remain in effect until the end of the year.

Donohoe sought to strike a hopeful tone, by pointing to the divorce deal already agreed between the two sides that dealt with issues such as citizens' rights after Brexit, Britain's financial liabilities to the bloc after 47 years of membership and maintaining an open border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K.

Brexit supporters say one of the benefits of leaving the EU is it gives Britain more freedom to strike trade deals with countries beyond Europe -- the United States but also fast-growing economies in Asia. Doing so would require the freedom to move away from EU rules on trade.

Donohoe was clear that Britain would not be able to have it both ways, and that the EU's priority going into the talks is to not weaken its single market.

“If the U.K. wants close economic ties with the EU, it will have to respect its rulebook,” Donohoe said.