EU and UK officials offer warm words ahead of Northern Ireland Protocol talks

European Commission spokesman Daniel Ferrie confirmed the two sides will meet this week for technical level talks.

The Union flag and the EU flag
The Union flag and the EU flag

UK and EU officials have signalled they are willing to resolve the impasse over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

European Commission (EC) spokesman Daniel Ferrie confirmed the two sides will meet this week for technical level talks, adding the EU will approach them “constructively” and it remains “committed to finding joint solutions”.

New Northern Ireland minister Steve Baker also insisted he is “convinced” London and Brussels can “get a deal which works for everyone” if they enter talks without pre-conditions and “together in a spirit of goodwill”.

Mr Baker, a strident Brexit supporter, said he is happy to eat humble pie in a bid to improve the broken relationship between Britain and Ireland.

The protocol was agreed by the UK and EU as part of the Withdrawal Agreement and sought to avoid a hard border with Ireland post-Brexit.

But the arrangements have created trade barriers on goods being shipped from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

The protocol is vehemently opposed by many unionists in Northern Ireland and the DUP is currently blocking the formation of a powersharing executive in Belfast in protest.

Talks between the UK and EU have stalled in recent months although Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and the EC’s Maros Sefcovic enjoyed a “good conversation” on Friday.

Mr Ferrie told reporters: “They both agreed that solutions needed to be found around the protocol.

“There will be technical level talks, discussions, exchanges this week, the details of which of course need to be worked out.

“All I would do is underline from our side that the EU is committed to joint efforts, it’s committed to finding joint solutions, we need to find these solutions to bring predictability, certainty to people in Northern Ireland.

“And I think in general, if you look back, it’s fair to say the EU has always approached these talks constructively and we will continue to do so.”

Prime Minister Liz Truss said she wants a settlement which “works for everybody”.

She told UTV: “We recognise that the EU have legitimate interests in protecting the single market.

“We have got to make sure we share commercial data, we want to make sure that the arrangements work for their concerns as well as our concerns.

“We have to have something that works for everybody, I am clear about that.”

UK minister Mr Baker on Sunday apologised for his previous “ferocious” stance on negotiations with the EU and acknowledged “humility” is required to restore relationships with the EU and Ireland.

Mr Baker, formerly a member of the pro-Brexit European Research Group of MPs, told Irish broadcaster RTE Radio 1’s Morning Ireland programme on Monday: “I’m very convinced that, if we get into a negotiation, without pre-conditions, and together in a spirit of goodwill, we can de-escalate this problem and we can get a deal which works for everyone, respecting everyone’s legitimate interests, north-south and east-west.

“And that really is why, if I have to eat a bit of humble pie in order to restore broken relationships to get that done, well, I’m happy to eat a bit of humble pie.”

Legislation to enable the UK Government to effectively tear up parts of the protocol is to return to Parliament on October 11.

The Northern Ireland Protocol Bill has already cleared the House of Commons and will be debated at second reading by the House of Lords, which is expected to consider it at length, next week.

Mr Ferrie, pressed about Mr Baker’s remarks and asked if the EU is willing to engage in fast-track negotiations while the Bill exists, said: “I think we’ve shown now for a long time that we are constructive, we’re open to finding solutions, we have come up with ideas as to how we can overcome some of the challenges related to the implementation of the protocol.

“We stand ready, we have been standing ready for a long time now to find those solutions, to negotiate, that’s all I can say.

“I’m not particularly fussed about terminology around one or other type of talk. There will be technical level colleagues and experts discussing this week and we’ll take it from there.”

Thomas Byrne, the Irish Minister for European Affairs, welcomed the change in the “mood music” but warned that both sides had been here before.

“What we need to see this week… we have had the good political atmospherics. By the way, we have had them before, but I think it is probably stronger now.

“We have got to make sure that the technical talks, which I believe are due to start this week between the EU and the UK, that they move on. Because that is where we fell down the last time.”

For Labour, shadow foreign secretary David Lammy said the UK Government “must not squander” the opportunity to make progress on the protocol.

He said: “The last thing the UK needs, in the middle of a fiscal crisis the Conservatives have created, is new trade barriers with the EU.

“For months, Labour has been calling for the Government to get round the negotiating table with the EU to fix the bad deal it negotiated.

“There is a window now the Government must not squander. With hard work and compromise on all sides, a deal is achievable to end this damaging, self-inflicted stand-off.”

Former deputy prime minister Lord Heseltine said the Government should pull the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, warning it would get “massacred” in the House of Lords.

He told a European Movement fringe event at the Conservative Party conference: “I think if our leadership, if the Government is looking for a U-turn, it should pull the legislation from the House of Lords tomorrow.

“It’s going to get massacred in the House of Lords anyway.”

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