Momentum has been building for weeks towards a deal to relax controls on trade introduced under the Northern Ireland protocol.
The United Kingdom and the European Union are about to finalize talks on the review of post-Brexit trade rules for Northern Ireland, Ireland’s prime minister said.
Momentum has been building for weeks towards a deal to ease trade controls introduced under the Northern Ireland Protocol – the arrangements agreed to avoid a hard border with EU member Ireland when the United Kingdom left the EU in 2020.
Politicians from British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservative Party have been told to be in parliament on Monday, as a sign that a deal is imminent.
“I think the protocol reform talks are moving towards a conclusion. Sure, the deal is not done yet, but I think we are moving towards a conclusion,” Leo Varadkar told reporters on Saturday.
“There is the possibility of agreement in the coming days, but this is by no means guaranteed… There is still a gap to be closed,” said Varadkar, adding that there is ongoing engagement between the UK government and the European Commission.
Signed by former Prime Minister Boris Johnson in 2020, the protocol aimed to avoid a hard border by effectively keeping Northern Ireland within the European Union’s single market.
But the treaty has enraged pro-British Unionists over the trade barriers it has created between British-ruled Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.
Varadkar, who played a key role in agreeing the protocol in 2019, encouraged London, Brussels and Northern Irish politicians to “go a step further” to reach an agreement, saying the benefits would be “huge”.
While a deal would end a two-year standoff between the UK and the EU, Sunak could face a battle with pro-Brexit Conservative lawmakers and pro-British Northern Irish politicians to make the deal work.
According to The Times, the current bid on the table would mean a revised protocol that would scrap almost all checks and most paperwork on goods crossing the Irish Sea.
Opinion polls have consistently shown that a majority of Northern Ireland voters – who opposed Brexit – are in favor of the idea of the protocol. However, the province’s assembly and power-sharing government have not sat for a year due to union opposition.
Sunak has promised the House of Commons will be able to “voice its view” on his new protocol terms, hoping Northern Ireland’s largest Unionist party, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), will restore power-sharing in the regional parliament . on the outskirts of Belfast.
The DUP has run seven tests to win its support for a deal, including tackling what it calls Northern Ireland’s “democratic deficit” subject to EU rules when it has no say in it.