Northern Ireland post-Brexit talks nearly done, EU says
The European Union’s Brexit chief said on Tuesday (21 February) that the finishing line was in sight for talks on easing post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland ahead of a second successive day of discussions with his British counterparts.
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak told his cabinet that intensive talks continued, his spokesman said, as his foreign and Northern Irish ministers prepared to speak to European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic later on Tuesday.
Ireland’s prime minister said the two sides had made progress and that Sunak should be given time to finalise a deal.
The talks have stepped up a gear in recent days, including between Sunak and Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), whose opposition to the protocol must be overcome to make any deal work.
What is the Northern Ireland protocol?
Below are details on the talks and hurdles to be overcome:
Why Northern Ireland?
Northern Ireland is a British-ruled province and part of the United Kingdom that shares a long border with Ireland, a member of the European Union.
When Britain left the European Union, what to do about trade over the open border was one of the most difficult parts of the Brexit negotiations.
Was it in the Northern Ireland Protocol?
To avoid the need for a hard border with Ireland and to prevent goods flowing unchecked into the EU’s single market, former prime minister Boris Johnson agreed to effectively leave Northern Ireland within the EU’s single market for goods. This means the province has to follow the bloc’s rules in relation to those movements.
Northern Ireland also remains part of the UK’s customs territory, effectively creating a customs border in the sea between Britain and Northern Ireland. Pro-British communities in the province say this erodes their place within the United Kingdom.
London says the bureaucracy – checks and paperwork for the trade of some goods – created by the protocol is threatening the 1998 peace agreement that mostly ended three decades of sectarian violence in the province.
What are the main issues?
British foreign minister James Cleverly has said “intensive work” was continuing to find a solution to what the government says are several outstanding issues:
Opposition or support?
The British government has been at pains to keep the negotiations as private as possible, but this has fuelled speculation over how far the two sides have moved to overcome some of the issues.