Irish government says Protocol not up for renegotiation despite Varadkar's claim it is 'too strict'

Thu 5 Jan 2023
Posted by: Phillip Adnett
Trade News

EU-UK Chess board - Northern Ireland Protocol

Irish leader Leo Varadkar has appeared to row back on comments he made about on the Northern Ireland Protocol earlier this week.

He previously indicated that there could be room for negotiating aspects of the protocol that was agreed to in 2019’s Withdrawal Agreement.

As reported previously by the IOE&IT Daily Update, the Irish taoiseach had said that the deal was “a little bit too strict” and mistakes were made on all sides of the negotiations.

According to the Irish Examiner, Irish government spokesman Nick Miller yesterday (4 January) said that these comments were not a signal that the protocol would be rewritten or that the text of the agreement was up for renegotiation.

Future plans

However, the Irish Times is reporting that that the EU has said it could agree to a less rigorous implementation of the arrangement, which might see a majority of checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from Britain removed.

The spokesman confirmed that Varadkar and UK prime minister Rishi Sunak had not yet spoken since the former’s re-appointment as taoiseach on 19 December and that there were no “firm” plans for a meeting.

The Irish leader is planning to visit Northern Ireland next week, according to the BBC.

NI politics

NI secretary Chris Heaton-Harris has invited the five largest parties in Stormont to roundtable talks ahead of a 19 January deadline for a new government to be formed.

If this deadline is not met, then another election will be called within 12 weeks.

The DUP has refused to join any new government unless there are changes to the protocol, thereby blocking the creation of an executive. Leaders of unionist parties reiterated these protocol demands in response to Heaton-Harris’ invitation.

Reaction to Kennedy

Meanwhile, US president Joe Biden’s appointment of a new diplomat to the region has received criticism from unionist politicians.

In December, Joe Kennedy III, a former Democratic congressman from Massachusetts, was appointed as the special envoy to Northern Ireland with a focus on economic affairs.

DUP MP Ian Paisley Jr said he was “not impressed” by the appointment and questioned Kennedy’s economic skills or political influence, according to GB News.

He added: "We’ll measure him not by his name but by his role."

‘Irish-American lobby’

The Daily Express reports that the Kennedy family scion has links to pro-republican parties and was part of an “Irish-American lobby” which purportedly moved for a more pro-EU stance from the Biden administration.

Conservative Party sources also said they “aren't happy about it," with a member of the European Research Group reportedly describing the decision as “ludicrous”.