UK ‘seriously participating’ in Northern Ireland protocol talks, says Coveney

The UK government is “seriously” engaged in efforts to resolve the impasse over the Northern Ireland Protocol, according to Ireland’s foreign secretary.

Simon Coveney said reports of EU-UK protocol talks resuming on Thursday are “positive news”, adding that “the mood has changed quite fundamentally”.

The European Commission confirmed earlier this week that the two sides would meet for talks at a technical level, adding that the EU would approach it “constructively” and it remained “committed to finding joint solutions”.

Coveney told reporters in Co Donegal: “Both sides have agreed to engage this week for the first time since mid-February.

“So this is a very welcome change of course which the UK government is seriously engaging with now, as opposed to going ahead with unilateral action which would certainly have caused many more problems than it would have solved.”

Coveney is also due to meet British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly for dinner in London on Thursday night and will chair a UK-Irish intergovernmental conference with Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris on Friday.

The protocol was approved by Britain and the EU as part of the Withdrawal Agreement and sought to avoid a hard border with Ireland after Brexit.

But the arrangements have created trade barriers for goods sent from the UK to Northern Ireland.

The protocol is fiercely opposed by many unionists in Northern Ireland, and the DUP is currently blocking the formation of a power-sharing directorate in Belfast in protest.

Coveney said Ireland’s role in EU-UK protocol negotiations would be “encouraging progress”.

He said: “Tomorrow evening I will be with Foreign Secretary James Cleverly for dinner in London and I will be co-chairing a British-Irish intergovernmental conference with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Chris Heaton-Harris on Friday.

“We will discuss these issues about how together we can resolve the outstanding issues and frustrations with the Northern Ireland Protocol. Of course this is primarily a negotiation between London and Brussels, but of course the Irish government has a central role to play in trying to find solutions.

“The EU has shown a willingness to compromise, to try to respond to legitimate concerns that have been expressed in Northern Ireland, and it remains to be seen whether this new UK government is willing to compromise to get a agreement in place.

“But certainly the mood music has changed fundamentally, we welcome that, and we will not only work on the relationships to rebuild trust, but also work on solutions in a practical way, and I think that process starts in earnest in this week. .”

Legislation to enable the UK government to effectively tear up parts of the protocol is due to return to parliament on 11 October.

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 thoroughly next week.

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