British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will meet tomorrow with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to negotiate the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol. The two will speak in London about a “range of complex issues” surrounding the protocol, part of the Brexit deal.
An amended Northern Ireland protocol has been discussed for some time and that adjustment is likely imminent. Earlier today, British Deputy Prime Minister Raab told the BBC that “a lot of progress” had been made recently in talks with the EU. “But we’re not there yet.”
The tail end of the negotiations must take place face to face, Sunak and Von der Leyen wrote in a press statement tonight. The two meet “around lunchtime”. If a deal is struck, the British Prime Minister and the EU leader will hold a press conference.
The issue of Northern Ireland has long been a hot topic between the UK and Brussels: it was already one of the most controversial points during the Brexit negotiations. On the island of Ireland, the EU (Ireland) borders on British territory (Northern Ireland). But with Brexit, the UK left the European market and introduced its own trade rules.
The EU has strict rules for imports from outside the Union. It was laid down that goods that had to be shipped from England to Ireland, for example, would be checked in Northern Ireland. After that check, the goods could still go to Ireland.
The British government now wants to set up two goods flows, whereby goods destined for Northern Ireland are not subject to customs control.
Irish Prime Minister Varadkaer welcomed the negotiations, he wrote:
I was in contact with President @vonderleyen today and very much welcome news of a meeting in London between @vonderleyen and @RishiSunak tomorrow. We should acknowledge the level of engagement between the UK Gov, the European Commission and the NI parties in recent months
February 26, 2023
In practice, businesses in Northern Ireland were saddled with a lot of paperwork. And the issue was also sensitive in the Northern Ireland parliament. For example, the DUP’s unionists felt that Northern Ireland was cut off from the rest of the UK by protocol.
The government formation in Northern Ireland also reached an impasse. The DUP wants to see the issue of the protocol resolved first before they want to form a government.
There was also friction between the British government and the EU. Last summer, the British government submitted a bill in London that would allow agreements from the Brexit agreement on trade with Northern Ireland to be amended unilaterally. That was against the sore leg of the EU.
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