Tuesday, March 28, 2023

‘Inching towards conclusion’: Irish PM says EU deal with UK over Northern Ireland Protocol is close

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Talks on the Northern Ireland Protocol are “inching towards a conclusion” but there is a still a gap to be closed, Leo Varadkar,  the Irish Prime Minister has said.

Speaking in Galway, Varadkar also said there is a possibility of agreement being reached in the next few days, but cautioned it is by no means guaranteed.

Talks between the UK and the European Union are intensifying this weekend as both sides try to reach agreement on post-Brexit trading arrangements for Northern Ireland.

“Certainly the deal isn’t done yet,” Varadkar said.

“But I do think we are inching towards conclusion and I really want to thank the UK government and the European Commission and the Northern Ireland parties for the level of engagement that they’ve done in recent months to get us to this point.

“I would just encourage everyone to go the extra mile to come to an agreement because the benefits are huge. They allow us to have the Northern Ireland Assembly back up and running in the north and the Good Friday Agreement working properly again, and also to put relations between the United Kingdom and Ireland and the European Union on a much more positive footing.

“That’s really important given all the other challenges we face, particularly with inflation and the war in Ukraine,” Mr Varadkar said.

Build up to this point

Nearly 10 days ago, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak held talks near Belfast with local political parties as reports said an amended deal over the Northern Ireland Protocol could be reached.

The protocol on post-Brexit trading rules, signed between London and Brussels, keeps Northern Ireland in the European single market and customs union and stipulates checks on goods moving from the rest of the UK to Northern Ireland.

It has proved deeply unpopular with the UK-run province’s unionist politicians, causing months of political deadlock.

London and Brussels have been negotiating for months to try to ease tensions over the trade arrangements.

Sinn Fein leader Mary Lou McDonald gave an upbeat assessment, saying: “It’s very much game on.” Her party is in favour of the protocol to prevent a hard border in Ireland.

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP),  walked out of Stormont in February 2022, mainly in protest against the protocol, causing political paralysis.

Britain this month said it would push back the deadline for Northern Ireland’s parties to form a government for a year to 18 January 2024 but reserved the right to call an election at any time in the intervening period.



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