Protocol solution hopes rise, but ”big gaps” remain

Mon 28 Nov 2022
Posted by: Richard Cree
Trade News

There was cautious optimism at the end of last week that the UK and EU can reach a deal on  the Northern Ireland Protocol, but there is still a lot of work to do to achieve this, politicians on both sides have signalled.

Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney welcomed efforts of Rishi Sunak’s government “to try to reset the relationship with the Irish government”, but said it only the first step.

Coveney called for a “serious effort” in the coming weeks to “make significant progress on settling these outstanding Brexit-related issues once and for all”, reports Belfast Live.

However, UK and EU sources have sought to play down the prospect of an imminent deal despite improved relations, according to Politics Home.

Protocol bill rankles 

Sources in London and Brussels told PoliticsHome there is still a long way to go before UK and EU negotiators reach a deal, with the EU still displeased by the tabling of the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill which will allow the UK to unilaterally disregard aspects of the protocol.

The UK government wants the number of checks that are carried out on goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain to be dramatically reduced and is demanding that the European Court of Justice no longer has jurisdiction over the post-Brexit treaty.

Speaking at the European Security Committee on Tuesday, foreign secretary James Cleverly said there were still “big gaps” in the talks.

NI ‘suffering’

The Telegraph reports that Rishi Sunak told US president Joe Biden in their first face-to-face talks, at the G20 summit, that Northern Ireland is “suffering” because of the Protocol.

“Businesses, families, and communities are suffering as a result of the Protocol,” Sunak said. “I’ve made that point loudly and clearly to all our counterparts and I’ve urged them to show flexibility and pragmatism in their response.”

Sunak is hoping to get the deal by 10 April for the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, when Biden is expected to visit.

Elections delayed

Meanwhile, the UK government has set a new deadline of 8 December for forming a new executive in Northern Ireland, reports Sky.

The Northern Ireland (Executive Formation etc) Bill was introduced this week to set the deadline and also sees MLA salaries slashed by about a third while the Assembly is unable to conduct business, and enables civil servants to have limited decision-making powers.

A DUP boycott of the devolved institutions, in protest at Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol, has prevented an executive being formed in Belfast.

Northern Ireland secretary Chris Heaton-Harris ruled out a December election and new legislation will extend the period for executive formation by six weeks to 8 December, with the possibility of a further six-week extension to 19 January, reports the Journal.

Committee wants answers

The House of Lords sub-committee on the protocol has written to the UK foreign secretary, James Cleverly, highlighting the findings of its recent inquiry into the Northern Ireland Protocol bill, reports the Irish News.

Its letter sets out the evidence and arguments presented relating to the economic, political and legal impact of the protocol and the subsequent legislation.

The committee heard evidence from business representatives, including the road haulage sector, on the damaging economic impact of the Protocol on East-West trade, and from representatives such as the dairy sector of the Protocol’s beneficial impact on North-South trade.

It is seeking reassurance that the Bill, in its attempts to deal with the problems with East-West trade, does not damage the benefits some businesses perceive in terms of North-South trade and trade with the EU.

The committee requested a response from Cleverley by 13 December and oral evidence before the Christmas recess, a week later.