Irish PM says ‘opportunity’ to end Brexit row after UK talks

Irish PM says ‘opportunity’ to end Brexit row after UK talks


Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin said on Friday there was “a window of opportunity” for Britain and the European Union to resolve an unresolved dispute over post-Brexit trade in Northern Ireland.

After two days of broader talks between British and Irish leaders in Blackpool, north-west England, Martin said he had a “positive outlook” after meeting his new British counterpart Rishi Sunak.

Martin and Sunak met on Thursday to end the long-running dispute over the Northern Ireland Protocol, which has paralyzed the power-sharing government in Belfast and pitted London against Brussels and Dublin.

“I think there is a window now,” Martin said at the conclusion of the British-Irish Council summit.

In an apparent sign of renewed commitment to easing post-Brexit friction in Northern Ireland, Sunak became the first British Prime Minister since 2007 to attend the regular gathering.

“The space is now in place to resolve the outstanding issues related to the protocol through negotiations, and of course that takes momentum,” Martin added.

“It will require significant commitment from the EU and the UK Government to make this a reality.”

The protocol was signed separately from the Trade and Cooperation Agreement that cemented the UK’s formal withdrawal from the European Union in January 2021.

But its implementation has proved a focal point for disagreements between the bloc, member states Ireland and the UK – and even threatens a possible trade war between the EU and the UK.

The agreement kept Northern Ireland in the European Single Market and Customs Union and established controls on goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.

This was to prevent a “hard” border between Ireland and Northern Ireland – a key element of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement that largely ended three decades of conflict.

– ‘pressure point’ –

However, it has infuriated hard-line unionists, including the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), leading to their boycott of the Stormont Assembly in Belfast since February.

The May election further complicated matters after pro-Irish party Sinn Féin won a historic first election.

The UK government, which risks EU reprisals by trying to unilaterally overhaul the protocol through legislation, has threatened to order a new vote.

Alongside Martin, senior UK minister Michael Gove said he was not aware of any plans to disrupt Parliament’s passage of the controversial bill.

But he insisted the talks in Blackpool had been “conducted in a cordial and constructive manner”.

“We remain optimistic about the possibility of reaching a solution,” he added.

Europe’s chief negotiator, Maros Sefcovic, said on Monday that an agreement could be found with the right “political will”.

London and Dublin hope a protocol breakthrough could pave the way for power-sharing to be restored in Northern Ireland.

The DUP has announced that it will not return to Stormont unless the Pact is scrapped or significantly revised.

On Wednesday, London extended a deadline for holding general elections in hopes it can reach a deal with Brussels in the coming weeks to break the impasse in Belfast.

When asked about the prospect of power-sharing resuming, both Martin and Gove said: “The sooner the better”.

“The pressure point is to really resolve this (protocol) issue so that we can create a path for institutional recovery,” Martin added.

Gove expressed hope that this could happen by the next meeting of UK and Irish leaders in June or July 2023.

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