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Sasko Lazarov/

Varadkar: Talks over Northern Ireland Protocol ‘inching towards conclusion’

The Taoiseach warned, however, that there is still a ‘gap to be closed’ in the UK-EU talks.

NEGOTIATIONS OVER THE Northern Ireland Protocol are “inching towards conclusion”, the Taoiseach has said.

Leo Varadkar was speaking as speculation mounts that a deal may be announced in the coming days.

Talks between the UK and EU to fix issues with the post-Brexit trading arrangements have been ongoing for some time.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen had been expected to travel to Britain today, and was to meet King Charles at Windsor Castle.

However, UK Government sources confirmed von der Leyen’s trip was called off, prompting commentary around Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s handling of the negotiations.

The DUP has pressed the UK Government to act on unionist concerns around the impact of the protocol on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and impact on the union.

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson has demanded action on the protocol before his party re-enters devolved government.

Speaking in Galway on Saturday, Varadkar commended the “level of engagement” in recent months.

He said he was cautious about saying anything that might risk the process, but indicated he believes there is a possibility of agreement in the next few days.

“Certainly the deal isn’t done yet,” Varadkar told RTE.

“But 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.

“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.”

Speculation of an imminent deal increased further when it emerged Tory MPs were being ordered into Parliament on a three-line whip on Monday, meaning they must be in the Commons.

British Cabinet ministers were also reportedly on alert for a possible conference call over the weekend.

The protocol, signed by former British prime minister Boris Johnson in 2020, was designed to prevent a hard border in Ireland after Brexit by effectively keeping Northern Ireland in the European Union’s single market.

But the treaty has incensed unionists due to the trade barriers it has created between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

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