News Item: Ireland voices hope of end to post-Brexit trade row in N.Ireland
Ireland’s foreign minister Simon Coveney on Friday gave hope of an end to wrangling over post-Brexit trading rules in Northern Ireland, as talks resumed to break the impasse.
Coveney met his UK counterpart James Cleverly in London on Thursday night and said there was a “real focus” on making progress and a “new air of positivity”.
“There is a genuine effort coming from this new team in the British government to try to reach out to Dublin and indeed to Brussels,” he told Ireland’s national broadcaster RTE.
“But time will tell whether, of course, the compromises necessary to get a deal are possible.”
Relations between Ireland and the UK have been soured by long-running disagreements over the implementation of trade arrangements between London and Brussels known as the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The deal, signed separately from the Brexit trade agreement that took the UK out of the European Union, effectively keeps Northern Ireland within the European single market and customs union.
London and pro-UK unionist parties in Northern Ireland object to having checks on goods heading to the province from mainland Britain, arguing it impinges on the country’s sovereignty.
The UK is seeking to unilaterally overhaul the agreement, despite EU warnings it could spark reprisals.
But there are signs of a thaw in frosty relations: last week Steve Baker, a junior UK Northern Ireland minister, apologised for the effect of the hardline stance on relations with Ireland.
On Thursday, Ireland’s deputy prime minister Leo Varadkar, who will become prime minister in December under a coalition deal in Dublin, conceded that the protocol had been “a little too strict”.
Coveney echoed the statements, saying both the EU and Ireland as a member of the bloc were in agreement on the need for flexibility.
Talks between London and Brussels had been stalled since February but a month-end deadline for the restoration of the devolved assembly in Belfast appears to have focused minds.
Northern Ireland’s biggest pro-UK party, the Democratic Unionist Party, has vowed to stay away from the newly elected legislature unless the protocol is scrapped or substantially overhauled.
UK Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris has said fresh elections would need to be called by October 28 unless power-sharing between unionists and pro-Ireland nationalists is restored.
Coveney said the prospect of that would “polarise opinion again, and make compromise a lot more difficult”.