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Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris arrives in Downing Street to attend a cabinet meeting yesterday. Kirsty Wigglesworth
Brexit

NI Secretary a 'glass half-full man' on Northern Ireland Protocol negotiations

The UK and EU are hoping to strike a compromise deal on the contentious post-Brexit trading arrangements.

NORTHERN IRELAND SECRETARY Chris Heaton-Harris has told MPs he is a “glass half-full man” on negotiations with the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

His comments came as shadow Northern Ireland secretary Peter Kyle asked: “It’s good news that the Prime Minister has paused the Protocol Bill. Can the secretary of state confirm that negotiations are on track to deliver an agreement that all communities can support by January 19?”

Heaton-Harris said he has “regular discussions with Northern Ireland political leaders on Northern Ireland matters including the protocol”.

The Northern Ireland Secretary added: “The Government is engaging in constructive dialogue with the European Union to find the solutions to the problems the protocol is causing, and we are also proceeding with the legislation which aims to fix to these problems in the event that we cannot reach a negotiated solution.”

“I am a glass half-full man and I really, truly believe there is landing zone that has been identified by all parties to aim for,” said Heaton-Harris.

“Can I confirm the date? No. Can I give a running commentary? I’m afraid I can’t.”

‘Impasse’

Heaton-Harris’ comments come ahead of face-to-face talks between British foreign secretary James Cleverly and European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic.

Both men are due to meet in Brussels tomorrow in an effort to intensify efforts to resolve the logjam over post-Brexit trade and to solve the impasse over the Northern Ireland Protocol. 

The UK’s Foreign Office and European Commission confirmed the scheduling of the meeting.

britain-politics Britain's Foreign Secretary James Cleverly gestures as he leaves after attending a Cabinet meeting in Downing Street yesterday. Kirsty Wigglesworth Kirsty Wigglesworth

A commission spokesman said it was part of the “ongoing engagement” between the senior politicians on the trading arrangements that have created economic barriers on the movement of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The ongoing dispute over the protocol is intrinsically linked to the current political instability in Northern Ireland.

The region’s largest unionist party, the DUP, is blocking the functioning of the powersharing institutions at Stormont in protest at the protocol, claiming the arrangements have undermined Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom.

The party has insisted it will not allow the formation of a ministerial executive in Belfast until radical changes to the protocol are delivered.

The UK Government has vowed to secure changes to the protocol it agreed as part of the Withdrawal Agreement.

While it has expressed hope of reaching a negotiated settlement with Brussels, the Government is also progressing contentious legislation at Westminster that would empower ministers to unilaterally scrap the bulk of the arrangements without EU approval.

The latter course of action could prompt retaliatory action from the European Commission.

Both the UK and EU are keen to resolve the dispute before next year’s landmark 25th anniversary of Good Friday Agreement.

Speaking yesterday, Cleverly said the tone of his regular discussions with Sefcovic were “positive” and “there is now an understanding that the concerns that we have raised, and that have been raised particularly by the Unionist community in Northern Ireland, are not confected but real, and that any agreement would need to address them”.

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Press Association
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