Negotiations continue between EU and UK on NI protocol, as 'significant gaps' remain

Tue 17 Jan 2023
Posted by: Phillip Adnett
Trade News

UK and EU in puzzle map with red Great Britain and Northern Ireland removed

The EU and UK are set to continue to negotiate over the Northern Ireland protocol, as both sides try to reach an agreement ahead of the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday agreement in April.

European Commission vice president, Maroš Šefčovič, UK foreign secretary James Cleverly and Northern Ireland secretary Chris Heaton-Harris met via video conference on Monday (17 January) to discuss the challenges.

A statement said that they agreed that this scoping work for potential solutions should continue in a constructive and collaborative spirit, taking careful account of each other’s legitimate interests.

Although the statement sees the EU and UK pledge to continue working towards a post-Brexit deal, it stopped short of formally announcing a final phase of negotiations, according to Bloomberg.

Much to do

Officials had been working over the weekend on a draft statement on the protocol, but diplomats stressed an enormous amount of technical work lay ahead of an overall agreement, reports RTE.

UK officials are reportedly negotiating the agreement in Brussels, ahead of an ‘intense’ period of discussions.

Guardian political editor Pippa Crerar tweeted that No 10 said there were “still significant gaps” between the two sides.

RTE Europe editor Tony Connelly tweeted that the EU-UK statement is more low key than expected.

Talks are aimed at resolving three key issues:

  • Checks on NI-GB trade
  • The role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ
  • The application of EU law in Northern Ireland.

The prospect of a visit by US president Joe Biden on the anniversary of the Good Friday agreement is focusing attention on a deal, according to CNN.

Data breakthrough

As covered by the IOE&IT Daily Update, talks received a boost last week when the UK and EU reached an agreement on data sharing to provide information on the movement of goods between GB and NI.

Relations between the UK and the EU improved as a result of the data deal, which could lead to a resolution on the protocol and end the political stalemate at Stormont, reports the BBC.

However, both the Conservative European Research Group and the DUP indicated they would oppose a deal that did not satisfy their red lines on the ECJ and application of EU law.

The DUP opposes the protocol and has protested by not joining the NI government since last year.

Elections on hold

The UK government is to further delay calling an election in Northern Ireland to give Brexit talks a chance.

Under legislation passed by parliament in December, if a new Stormont executive is not formed by Thursday (19 January), the government has a legal responsibility to call a snap assembly election by 13 April.

NI politics

However, it is understood that Heaton-Harris will delay calling the ballot for some weeks as parties have advised him an election will not deliver a devolved government until a protocol deal amenable to the DUP is struck.

The DUP came in second at the last Stormont elections in May 2022 and – as the largest Unionist party – their presence is required to form any government.