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Thursday 7 December 2023 Dublin: 11°C
Northern Ireland

Coveney says UK-EU post-Brexit deal is 'doable' by the end of the year

It comes after the European Commission vice president said a deal could happen within weeks with the right “political will”.

FOREIGN AFFAIRS MINISTER Simon Coveney has said that a deal between the EU and the UK over Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trading arrangements is “doable” by the end of the year. 

It comes after the European Commission vice president said a deal could happen within weeks with the right “political will”.

Negotiations between London and Brussels aimed at securing changes to the protocol are continuing with both sides talking up the prospect of a deal.

Speaking to reporters in Dublin today, Coveney said: “We need to get this issue behind us in terms of the Protocol in a way that respects an international treaty that’s been signed.

“I think it’s doable by the end of the year.”

The UK government has vowed to secure changes to the protocol, either by a negotiated compromise with the EU or through proposed domestic legislation – the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill – which would empower ministers to scrap parts of the arrangements brokered as part of the Brexit divorce deal without the approval of Brussels.

The European Commission has warned that such unilateral action at Westminster would be in breach of international law and could prompt retaliatory action.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin is set to meet his UK counterpart Rishi Sunak at the British-Irish Council in Blackpool on Thursday, where it is hoped that relations will further improve.

Coveney said the summit would give the UK the opportunity to provide “some clarity” on its approach to elections in Northern Ireland.

Sunak met with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen at the COP27 summit yesterday, which she dubbed a “good first meeting” following talks about the post-Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol.

Striking a conciliatory tone, the two leaders “agreed on the importance of working together to agree a resolution”, according to Downing Street.

“On the Northern Ireland Protocol, the Prime Minister reiterated the need to find solutions to the very real problems it had created on the ground in Northern Ireland,” Downing Street said.

Following the meeting, the commission’s vice president Maros Sefcovic told Westminster that he did not believe the EU and the UK were “worlds apart” on the protocol, as he warned that unilateral action by the Government would have “serious” consequences.

“This is the area where we do not seek any political victory. We just want to solve the problem,” he said.

Discussing EU proposals to reduce checks, he said: “Is it too much to do this? Can we not find pragmatic, technical solutions to make this thing work?

“I believe it could be done, if there is political will, I’m sure that we can sort it out really within a couple of weeks because really both sides of our negotiating teams we know these topics from all angles.”

Meanwhile, Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris is due to give a statement in the House of Commons tomorrow on plans for an Assembly Election. 

Heaton-Harris has already ruled out an election in Northern Ireland before Christmas, but has yet to set a date for when it will take place. It is thought that he may push back an election deadline in the region to give more time for a deal on post-Brexit trade to be struck.

According to a statement from Downing Street, the restoration of powersharing in Stormont was at the top of the agenda at a cabinet meeting chaired by Sunak today.

“The Northern Ireland Secretary said he had carried out extensive engagement with Executive party leaders, civic society and business leaders, as well as people in Northern Ireland in recent days,” Downing Street said.

“He noted that he has carefully considered an informed approach in line with those discussions.

“Cabinet agreed that the UK Government’s absolute priority for the people of Northern Ireland was the restoration of a stable, effective and accountable devolved government in Northern Ireland as well as protecting the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement which had been the bedrock of progress.”

“The Northern Ireland Secretary resolved to update the House of Commons on the best means to achieve that tomorrow in the House.”

Additional reporting from AFP and the Press Association

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