European Union Trade Commissioner Phil Hogan has said there is no real sign that Britain is approaching trade talks with the EU with a plan to succeed and it appears set to blame any post-Brexit fallout on the economic shock from Covid-19.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Sean O'Rourke, Mr Hogan said: "Despite the urgency and enormity of the negotiating challenge, I am afraid we are only making very slow progress in the Brexit negotiations.

"There is no real sign that our British friends are approaching the negotiations with a plan to succeed. I hope I am wrong, but I don't think so. 

"I think that the United Kingdom politicians and government have certainly decided that Covid is going to be blamed for all the fallout from Brexit and my perception of it is they don't want to drag the negotiations out into 2021 because they can effectively blame Covid for everything." 

The commissioner said if there is no "step change" in the approach, the combination of Covid-19 and Brexit will "be an almighty blow to the UK economy later in the year" and this will spill over to Ireland and other countries. 

Mr Hogan said there is great unity between EU countries and "divide and rule tactics" should not be used by the UK. 

He added that the EU is serious about a deal and wants predictability and stability on the EU side. 

The commissioner said that in parallel to negotiations on the political declaration and trade aspects "we want to see the implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement" as the Irish protocol involved painstaking negotiations and the EU does not want to see any delay in the implementation of phase one. 

He said time is short and issues including fisheries and level playing field governance will have to be on the table very shortly. 

He said agreement is needed ahead of a planned meeting at the end of June between European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Covid-19 challenges make Brexit even more complicated

The Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs has said the challenges of Covid-19 make Brexit even more complicated. 

Simon Coveney told the Dáil that the pandemic raised already high stakes, even higher and this should focus minds on agreeing a "sensible future trading agreement". 

Mr Coveney said two rounds of negotiations on the FTA had already taken place with the next round due to start on 11 May. 

He said that whatever the outcome of the negotiations, the Protocol on Ireland would still stand.

On calls for the UK to agree to an extension to the transition period, Mr Coveney said it would not be helpful to speculate and that the UK had repeatedly said it did not need an extension. 

He said they would continue to be ready to work towards the date of 31 December. 

On a report about an EU office in Belfast, Simon Coveney said he was confident agreement can be reached on various committees on how EU involvement as outlined in the Protocol can operate in an appropriate and sensible way.

Sinn Féin's finance spokesperson Pearse Doherty has told the Dáil that a crisis point has been reached in the Brexit negotiations and the British must request an extension to the transition period.

He said that the Government and the EU negotiators must impress upon the British that an extension must be sought without delay.

Mr Doherty said the the threat of a hard Brexit had not disappeared.

Neasa Hourigan of the Green Party has said it is "remarkable" that the British government would object to the establishment of an EU office in Belfast after Brexit.

She said that having lived and worked in the city for many years, she knows of a huge cohort of people and businesses there who deserve EU representation in the place they have made their home.

Ms Hourigan told the Dáil that the international obligations undertaken by the UK in 2016 under the Paris Agreement on climate change should be factored in as an essential element in any future trade agreement.