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Advocates of new Brexit deal 'not living in real world': Irish minister

FILE PHOTO: Ireland's Foreign Minister Simon Coveney speaks during a news conference in Dublin, Ireland, April 12, 2018. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne/File Photo

DUBLIN (Reuters) - Pro-Brexit British ministers are "not living in the real world" if they think they can renegotiate the divorce treaty agreed with the EU last week, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said on Saturday.

British Prime Minister Theresa May is fighting to save the draft withdrawal deal ahead of a vote in parliament after ministerial resignations and open talk of a challenge to her leadership followed its endorsement by cabinet. 

British media reported on Friday that pro-Brexit ministers, including trade minister Liam Fox and environment minister Michael Gove, the most prominent Brexiteer in May's government, would meet this weekend to modify her deal.

Ireland has been among the EU governments that have said there was little scope to change the proposals.

Coveney said on Saturday that the withdrawal treaty would not be reopened and suggested that wavering British ministers instead seek to influence the political declaration on future relations still under discussion.

"This idea that now after two years of negotiation, somehow four or five cabinet ministers can negotiate a different outcome and agree it themselves, and then expect the EU to just sign up to that, I just think it's not living in the real world," Coveney told a podcast recorded by the Irish Times at his Fine Gael party's annual conference. 

The legally-binding withdrawal treaty forms part of a Brexit package alongside the declaration, which envoys from the other EU member states met to discuss in Brussels on Friday ahead of a Nov. 25 summit for EU heads to rubber-stamp both documents.

Diplomats and officials involved in Friday's meeting told Reuters that EU states said they wanted an "ambitious" future relationship with Britain but that this would not mean frictionless trade.

Coveney said talks in the coming days on the declaration provided British ministers with the opportunity to get the reassurances they need on future EU-British trade.

"The negotiating team has deliberately decided to publish a skeleton document that needs to be fleshed out and will probably double or quadruple in size by the time it's done," he said, adding that it was "absolutely" up for discussion with London.

(Reporting by Padraic Halpin; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)