EU and UK negotiators should be given ‘room’ to reach NI Protocol agreement

The Irish deputy prime minister said the UK and EU negotiators should be given space to find a solution to the Northern Ireland Protocol impasse.

Micheal Martin, who is also Ireland’s foreign minister, stressed that the UK Government and the European Commission still need to overcome challenges before an agreement can be reached.

Mr Martin said it “is not a bad thing” that not many details have emerged from the process regarding the state of the negotiations.

British Irish Intergovernmental Conference in Dublin

Tanaiste Michael Martin (Brian Lawless/PA)

Tanaiste was commenting when he arrived for the EU’s Foreign Affairs Council meeting in Brussels.

“I think the issues are challenging and I think participation is important,” he said.

“We all welcome the fact that the EU negotiation team and the UK negotiation team are working on the issue and continue to engage with it.

“And we hoped these negotiations were successful, but they are very challenging for both the UK government and the European Union side.

“So I never underestimated the challenges they faced, but I believe the important aspect of it is that they should be given space to speak up and continue negotiations.”

The protocol was adopted by the UK and EU as a way to clear the bottleneck in securing a Brexit withdrawal deal in 2019.

Designed as a way to keep the Irish land border flowing freely, it moved regulatory and customs controls on goods to the Irish Sea, creating economic barriers to trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Many unionists in Northern Ireland vehemently oppose the regulations, which they claim weaken the region’s place in the union.

Brexit

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson warns PM not to serve a ‘half-baked’ deal (Liam McBurney/PA)

The DUP is currently blocking the operation of power sharing in Stormont and has made it clear that it will not allow devolution to return unless major changes are made to the protocol.

On Sunday, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson warned the Prime Minister not to offer a “half-baked” deal to resolve the protocol dispute.

He urged Rishi Sunak to “take care of this and do it properly”, while warning against any temporary arrangement with the EU.

Sir Jeffrey also took action to downplay speculation that London and Brussels were about to reach an agreement to end the stalemate over contentious trade arrangements.

He said cabinet ministers had advised him that there was still “a pretty big gap” between the two sides.

Sir Jeffrey told GB News there was pressure on the UK Government to make the “right deal”.

“I’m very clear that we need to fix this and so don’t go to the UK Government and the Prime Minister for a half-baked deal, not go for some kind of interim arrangement – let’s do it and do it properly,” he said.

“Because if we’re going to restore the political institutions in Northern Ireland, if we’re going to be able to move Northern Ireland forward with cross-community support, then we need a deal that can be supported by trade unionists as well as nationalists.

“This means dealing with very difficult and challenging issues. Leadership is about it. So I think there is pressure on the UK Government to make a deal, but I want to see them make the right deal for Northern Ireland and the whole of the UK.”

Both London and Brussels want to secure a breakthrough that will facilitate a return to institutions ceded in Stormont ahead of the anniversary of the Good Friday/Belfast peace agreement on 25 April.

The government has put on the table a bill that would authorize ministers to unilaterally terminate the protocol without the consent of Brussels – the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill.

However, Mr. Sunak halted the Bill’s progress through Parliament as efforts to reach a negotiated agreement with the EU gained momentum.

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