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‘Very constructive’ talks between EU and UK on Northern Ireland


European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Wednesday welcomed “very constructive” discussions with the United Kingdom on the issue of post-Brexit controls in Northern Ireland.

Progress on the delicate question of Northern Ireland. Discussions between the United Kingdom and the European Union on post-Brexit controls have been “very constructive”, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said on Wednesday (February 1st).

“Our teams are working together to find solutions and come up with a common framework (…) The negotiations will continue until the very end, until the moment when you know what the final result is and you sign, but the discussions are very constructive,” she told a press conference in Brussels.

The head of the European executive assured that she had an “excellent relationship” with British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, who took office in October. “Our teams are working together to find solutions.”

However, “no agreement has been reached” at this stage, warned a spokesperson for Rishi Sunak, describing as “speculative” reports in the British press reporting a close conclusion to the talks.

“There is still a lot of work to be done in all areas and significant gaps remain between our positions,” he insisted.

Negotiated at the same time as the Brexit treaty, the Northern Irish protocol effectively keeps Northern Ireland, which has the only British land border with the EU, in the single European market.

The text aims both to preserve the 1998 peace agreement, which ended three decades of bloody conflict on the island, by avoiding the return of a hard customs border between the Republic of Ireland (member of EU) and the British province of Northern Ireland, while protecting the integrity of the European single market.

Boycott of local institutions by unionists

But Northern Irish Unionists see customs controls on goods from Britain as a threat to Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom, and are therefore boycotting local institutions, demanding deep protocol changes.

However, the text has never been fully implemented as grace periods on controls have been introduced and extended for products such as non-frozen meat or medicines, so its full application suggests that the difficulties will worsen.

London, which criticizes the Europeans for refusing to renegotiate the text and accuses them of lacking flexibility, has decided to legislate to unilaterally reverse the customs provisions of the text, while Brussels is demanding its application to protect the integrity of the European market. Discussions had been relaunched in 2022 between the two parties.

Copyright © 2023 The Eastern Herald.

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