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NI Protocol: Von der Leyen to visit Sunak tomorrow to discuss 'complex challenges'

A new system for custom checks may be adopted as negotiations on the Northern Ireland Protocol appear to be near a resolution.

LAST UPDATE | 26 Feb 2023

EUROPEAN COMMISSION CHIEF Ursula von der Leyen will meet British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in London tomorrow to discuss changes on the post-Brexit Northern Ireland protocol, they said in a joint statement.

In what appears to be the talks entering into an endgame phase the statement said the meeting would address “complex challenges”. 

The two “agreed to continue their work in person towards shared, practical solutions for the range of complex challenges around the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland”, said the statement issued late Sunday.

Commission “President von der Leyen will therefore meet with the Prime Minister in the UK tomorrow,” it said.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar welcomed news of the meeting.


SDLP Leader Colum Eastwood MP has welcomed progress in talks between the European Commission and the British Government.

Eastwood said that any resolution to the discussions must secure the benefits of dual market access for businesses in Northern Ireland.

Over the line

Earlier Tánaiste Micheál Martin said the EU and UK both want to get a resolution on the Northern Ireland Protocol “over the line”.

It’s believed that both sides are growing ever nearer to an agreement on the post-Brexit trading mechanism that has prevented a hard border on the island of Ireland but drawn unionist ire.

Deputy British Prime Minister Dominic Raab has said he expects a pact to be signed off in “days, not weeks”, while the Tánaiste said he believes reaching a deal will be for the benefit of people in Northern Ireland.

Speaking to RTÉ, the Tánaiste said that “our objective collectively between the British government, the Irish government, the European Union is to have a resolution between the EU and UK and have the convention for the assembly and the executive restored in Northern Ireland, which I think will benefit the people of Northern Ireland”.

“I’m always very wary of speculating in respect of timelines but I do know that the will is there on everybody’s behalf now to get this over the line in a quicker timeline,” he said.

On whether the deal in the works could satisfy the DUP and restore powersharing in Stormont, he said: “I would hope so and I believe we’ve listened very, very carefully to the concerns of all parties in Northern Ireland.”

“It’s clear to me that both negotiating teams worked on the basis of responding to concerns that had been raised by political parties in Northern Ireland.”

Meanwhile, the UK’s Dominic Raab said there had been a “paradigm shift” in the approach from Brussels, hinting that talks had wielded changes on customs checks as well as the role of the European Court of Justice.

Raab, asked on Sky News’ Sophy Ridge On Sunday programme whether a deal could be unveiled as soon as tomorrow, replied: “I think there is real progress.”

“We want to make sure all the pieces are in place. I think, hopefully, there will be good news in a matter of days, not weeks,” he said.

The Cabinet minister later told the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg: “If we can get this over the line — we’re on the cusp, we’ve made great progress, we’re not there yet — this would be a really important deal.”

It comes as British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said yesterday his administration was “giving it everything we’ve got” to finalise a deal.

Hard border

The Protocol was designed to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland by effectively keeping Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market and placing trade checks at the Irish Sea instead, which unionists have lamented.

Several reports have said there will be red and green lanes for customs, allowing trusted traders to send goods from Great Britain into Northern Ireland without checks, while goods destined for Ireland and the EU’s single market will go through the red lane.

The European Court of Justice’s role in Northern Ireland under the Protocol has become a point of contention in the negotiations, with unionists and Westminster eurosceptics wanting to be free of its influence.

The Tánaiste said today: “I think the problem is that very often its role is not understood more broadly across society.”

“What is very interesting in all of my consultations with parties in Northern Ireland and with industry and business, all want continued access to the European Union single market because it benefits the Northern Ireland economy,” he said.

“There’s balance and perspective in all negotiations and I think we need to properly understand the role of the ECJ – it’s around interpreting European Union law.”

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said yesterday that “certainly the deal isn’t done yet” but that “I do think we are inching towards conclusion and I really want to thank the UK Government and the European Commission and the Northern Ireland parties for the level of engagement that they’ve done in recent months to get us to this point”.

“I would just encourage everyone to go the extra mile to come to an agreement because the benefits are huge,” he said.

“They allow us to have the Northern Ireland Assembly back up and running in the north and the Good Friday Agreement working properly again, and also to put relations between the United Kingdom and Ireland and the European Union on a much more positive footing.”

With reporting from Niall O’Connor, Lauren Boland and AFP.

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