EU and UK negotiators must be given “space” to reach protocol deal
(Alliance News) – UK and EU negotiators should be given space to find a resolution to the Northern Ireland Protocol impasse, Ireland’s deputy prime minister said.
Michael Martin, who is also Ireland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, stressed that the UK government and the European Commission still had to overcome challenges if an agreement was to be reached.
Martin said that “it is not a bad thing” that he was not releasing too much detail from the process about the state of the negotiations.
The Tanaiste was commenting as he arrived at a meeting of the Council of Foreign Affairs of the EU in Brussels.
“I think the issues are challenging and I think engagement is important,” he said.
“I think we all welcome the fact that the EU negotiating team and the UK negotiating team have been engaging and will continue to engage on the issue.
“And we hope that those negotiations will be successful but they are very challenging, both for the UK government and for the EU side.
“So, I have never underestimated the challenges they face, but the important aspect of this is that they are talking and I believe they should be given space to continue the negotiations.”
The protocol was agreed by the UK and the EU in 2019 as a way to open the logjam on securing a Brexit withdrawal agreement.
Designed as a means of keeping the Irish land border free of traffic, it carried out regulatory and customs controls on goods to the Irish Sea, and created economic barriers to trade between Great Britain and Ireland Above.
Many unionists in Northern Ireland strongly oppose the arrangements which they claim have weakened the region’s place within the union.
The DUP is currently blocking the functioning of power sharing in Stormont and has made it clear that it will not allow devolution to return unless major changes are made to protocol.
On Sunday, DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson warned the Prime Minister not to settle for a “half-baked” deal to resolve the protocol standoff.
He warned against any interim arrangement with the EU as he urged Rishi Sunak to “do it, and do it properly”.
Donaldson also moved to play down speculation that London and Brussels were on the verge of reaching an agreement to end the standoff over contentious trade arrangements.
He said that the Cabinet ministers were advising him that there is still “quite a gap” between the two sides.
Donaldson told GB News the pressure was on the UK government to deliver the “right deal”.
“I’m very clear that we have to get this right and that’s why I say to the UK government and the prime minister, don’t go for a half-assed deal, don’t go for some kind of interim arrangement – let’s do it, and it’s done properly, ” he said.
“Because if we want to restore political institutions in Northern Ireland, if we want to be able to move Northern Ireland forward with cross-community support, then we need an agreement that unionists as well as nationalists can support .
“That means dealing with the very difficult and challenging issues. That’s what leadership is about. So, I think the pressure is on the UK Government to get a deal done, but I’d like to see them get the deal it -good for Northern Ireland and the whole of the United Kingdom.”
Both London and Brussels are keen to secure a breakthrough that would facilitate a return to the devolved institutions at Stormont before the anniversary of the Good Friday/Belfast peace agreement on 25 April.
The government has brought forward draft legislation – the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill – which would give ministers the power to unilaterally lift the protocol without the consent of ‘ Brussels.
However, Sunak halted the bill’s progress through Parliament as efforts to secure a negotiated settlement with the EU intensified.
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