As Northern Ireland Protocol talks resume is a pre-election deal looming?

Thu 10 Feb 2022
Posted by: Noelle McElhatton
Trade News

brexit flags

An interim deal on the Northern Ireland Protocol could be announced to time with the 21 February meeting of the EU-UK Joint Committee.

With Brexit minister Liz Truss due to meet her EU counterpart Maros Sefcovic in London tomorrow, there is a push to achieve substantive progress at the Joint Committee meeting.

The Committee was established to resolve any issues that may arise during implementation of the Withdrawal Agreement but has not sat since last June as talks showed little progress.

Medicines deal

According to Politico, this could see an agreement on the access to medicines ahead of a break from discussions during the Northern Ireland Assembly election campaign in May.

Other ‘trickier issues’, which range from technical agreements on seed potatoes and pet transport to VAT, would be addressed at a later date.

The European Commission proceeded with introducing relevant legislation on medicines in December.

Britain refused to back the medicines element at the time but showing progress on February 21 could be in everyone’s interest, claims Politico. 

Johnson to sign

The Express reports that Boris Johnson is expected to sign the interim deal on post-Brexit access to medicines.

However, Tory peer Lord Moylan tweeted that this would be a “huge error” Britain settles on medicines and leaves UK objections for future talks, calling it “the @theresa_may mistake all over again”.

Politics Home reports that the government hopes that DUP moves to cripple Stormont will prompt the EU to compromise on the protocol in the coming weeks to bring NI unionists back onside.

DUP block

A senior UK source on Wednesday said: “We are hopeful of a big enough move from the EU in the next few weeks to convince unionists that things are moving in the right direction.”

Failure to do so could result in the DUP not nominating a first minister or deputy first minister – one of which posts it is expected to hold – resulting in a non-functioning executive.

DUP MP Ian Paisley ramped up opposition to the protocol in the Commons on Wednesday, saying that it has “zero support from unionists”, reports the Belfast Telegraph. He called on Boris Johnson to “bring forward a solution that saves the union”.

According to RTE, recent polling showed that a narrow majority of 52% regard the protocol as a good thing.

Party interests

Columnist Darren Litter said that the DUP’s recent actions “leaves the impression that the DUP is acting narrowly in the interests of their party, rather than the interests of the NI entity it purports to defend”.

The DUP is losing support in Northern Ireland with a poll in August 2021 putting it at just 13%. Predictions put it on course to lose its position as the leading party in Northern Ireland to Sinn Fein.

In a takedown of DUP arguments, Litter said the EU had been flexible and that NI has outperformed the rest of the UK economically.

DUP moves to half border checks in Northern Ireland were described as “very unhelpful” by Sefcovic recently, reports RTE.

Agriculture minister Edwin Poots’ demand that the checks cease does not seem to have been implemented, reports the Irish Times.

Protocol negotiations resume today, with Sefcovic and Truss due to meet in London tomorrow. Commission officials have been in Northern Ireland this week meeting business leaders and civil society representatives.