A significant breakthrough in negotiations over the future implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol could be on the way as UK and EU leaders continued to talk up the prospects of agreement.
Bloomberg reports that a new live database tracking goods crossing the Irish sea, developed by the UK, is being tested by the EU. The system is being described as ‘key’ to any deal, although some in Brussels have downplayed the importance of this development
The BBC reports claims from the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Maroš Šefčovič that issues around the Protocol dispute could be resolved in “a couple of weeks”.
Shift in tone
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney previously said he detected “a real intent in London” and that a negotiated settlement between the sides is “doable” by the end of the year, according to the Belfast Telegraph.
UK prime minister Rishi Sunak and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen had agreed at a meeting during COP27 to work together to resolve any issues.
During Northern Ireland questions in the House of Commons this morning (9 November), junior Northern Ireland minister Steve Baker repeated his belief that a solution to the issue could be found.
He added that the government would legislate to override the Protocol if it cannot renegotiate to ensure the regions enjoys the key benefits of being in the UK.
The news of a potential thawing of relations comes as Northern Ireland secretary Chris Heaton-Harris announced today that the deadline for fresh Assembly elections in the region will be extended by six weeks to 8 December, with an option of a further six week extension to 19 January 2023.
The minister added that the aim was to create the “time and space” for talks between the UK and the EU to develop, and for parties in Northern Ireland to work together to restore the devolved institutions as soon as possible.
This delay to an election had been expected, with Heaton-Harris having previously said that he had listened to “sincere concerns” across the region about the impact and cost of a fresh poll at this time and that there would be “no Assembly election…in December, or ahead of the festive season.”
Downing Street has called the restoration of power-sharing in Northern Ireland an “absolute priority”.
The need for stability in Northern Ireland has been particularly highlighted today by research released by Queen’s University Belfast.
Findings from the research show that low productivity is the biggest economic challenge facing the region, which is currently the least productive in the UK, lagging 17% behind the UK average.