April 13. 2024. 4:57

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Northern Ireland Protocol: ‘Finishing line’ in sight for EU-UK talks, says Šefčovič

The end is in sight for negotiations between the European Union and United Kingdom on how to resolve a dispute over the Northern Ireland Protocol, the EU’s point man on the talks has said.

“We are not there yet,” European Commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič said in Brussels. “We can clearly see the finishing line, but in such a negotiation being close doesn’t mean being done.”

Asked whether an agreement could still be struck if the British government goes ahead with paused legislation that would grant ministers the power to unilaterally override the international agreement, Mr Šefčovič said that joint action was key.

“Joint solutions will be the best answer to all the unintended consequences of the Protocol, all the issues I was hearing from the Northern Ireland stakeholders with whom as you know I had intensive consultations over the last year,” Mr Šefčovič said.

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He suggested that a deal would bring economic opportunity for the North due to the access offered to businesses to both the UK and EU internal markets.

“I hope with resolving all these problems we are currently negotiating upon with our UK partners, we can create conditions that the next 25 years of the Good Friday/Belfast Agreement will be not only about the peace, but also about prosperity,” he said.

Mr Šefčovič held a video conference with British foreign secretary James Cleverly and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Chris Heaton-Harris to take stock of the talks on Tuesday.

Discussions continue “at high intensity”, he said following the discussion. The three are expected to meet physically later this week.

On a visit to Brussels, Minister of State for European Affairs and Defence Peter Burke urged negotiators not to let slip the chance to resolve their differences.

“This is a very narrow window of opportunity. It’s very important that we grasp it, that we grasp it for the people of Northern Ireland,” Mr Burke said.

“It’s important to de-dramatise a lot of this incendiary language that we do hear around various different issues. And there should be a pathway to get an agreement.”

Ireland and the EU want relations with the UK that are no longer “dominated by Brexit” so that all sides can focus on the future and on broader issues, he continued.

“The protocol issue has been going on a significant period of time. We really need a situation whereby we can work on the future relationship,” he said. “We don’t want European Council meetings, or the landscape of Europe to be dominated by Brexit.”

“If you ask businesses in Northern Ireland, if you are citizens in Northern Ireland what they want, they want a regime that has no hard border, the modern economy that delivers for them, and they want a government that’s there to take decisions.”

Mr Burke spoke as he arrived for a meeting of European Affairs ministers in Brussels at which the EU’s support for Ukraine, economic policy, and disaster relief for earthquake-hit Turkey and Syria were discussed.