Promise of 'Northern Ireland Protocol deal by March' as Liz Truss intensifies negotiations

Fri 14 Jan 2022
Posted by: Noelle McElhatton
Trade News

Foreign secretary and Brexit minister Liz Truss has agreed to intensify talks on the Northern Ireland Protocol with hopes of getting a deal over the line by March.

Truss has been having her first face-to-face meeting with her EU counterpart Maros Sefcovic over the past two days as she looked to reset the fraught relationship in a bid to find a solution.

Tweeting this morning, the foreign secretary said the cordial meeting resulted in an agreement that officials would meet next week for “intensified talks” with the principals meeting again on 24 January.

“We share a desire for a positive relationship between the UK and EU underpinned by our shared belief in freedom and democracy,” Truss said in a statement.

Tony Connolly of Irish broadcaster RTE reported on Twitter this evening that while the two chief negotiators met, there were technical meetings on the side about customs, SPS checks, state aid and governance.

Connolly added that EU diplomats noted the good atmosphere and were appreciative of UK hospitality at the foreign secretary’s grace-and-favour home, Chevening House in Kent.

Quick deal

According to the Telegraph, Truss told the EU she wants a deal by the end of March, based on a new timetable of talks.

“We want an agreement very quickly to protect peace and stability in Northern Ireland,” a government source told the paper. “Liz wants the pace to be slightly quicker. All she wants is both sides to agree to intensive talks and the deal to be done really quickly.”

After an unfortunate start, with Sefcovic stumbling on icy steps on arrival at Chevening House on Thursday, the pair said a deal was needed to ensure peace and stability in the province.

Election deadline

Both sides are intent on trying to reach agreement by the March deadline to get the issue sorted ahead of the May elections in Northern Ireland.

Officials and diplomats in Brussels believe the elections will give Truss scope to compromise in the negotiations to ensure they do not overshadow the election campaign.

“We’re already taking bets on when Britain’s annual Brexit climbdown will come,” one diplomat said.

Pragmatic approach

Despite weekend sabre rattling with Truss saying that triggering Article 16 remained on the table, a source told the Times that the emphasis was on both sides being pragmatic to find a solution to break the deadlock.

Truss and Sefcovic held three sessions of talks, including over a dinner of Scottish smoked salmon, Welsh lamb and apple pie from Kent. They also went for a private walk around the Chevening estate.

While the pair got on with discussing stumbling blocks in the protocol, Northern Ireland businesses have rated post-Brexit issues as “the least of their worries”.

Brexit bonus

The Guardian reports that Manufacturing NI’s report found that businesses are more concerned with labour shortages and 28% of them are benefitting from an increase in trade with the EU.

NI remains in the EU customs union and single market while also being part of the UK customs territory. 

Stephen Kelly, chief executive of the trade organisation said there was a “huge uptick” in the number of firms accepting that the “protocol is here to stay”, but they want it to work better with simpler paperwork.

“It shows the narrative favoured by the DUP and others that Northern Ireland is going to hell in a handcart because of the protocol is quite clearly not the case, quite the opposite,” he added.

Northern Ireland minister Brandon Lewis has said that NI’s unique position within the EU single market while remaining part of the UK gives it an economic advantage that it can exploit.