British and EU officials have agreed to meet for the first time in months to discuss how to resolve a bitter row over Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trade deals in a sign that new British Prime Minister Liz Truss is looking to tie up ties to Brussels wants to improve.
Negotiations for a breakthrough on the Northern Ireland Protocol, the part of Britain’s Brexit deal that governs trade between Britain and Northern Ireland, collapsed in February.
But on Friday, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly spoke to Maroš Šefčovič, the EU’s Brexit negotiator, and agreed officials would meet “soon” to consider resuming stalled talks.
The dispute over the protocol has soured relations between the two sides since the UK left the EU in 2020, but Truss wants to settle the disagreement.
Cleverley said in a tweet: “It’s good to be speaking with Maroš Šefčovič today on important common issues, including the Northern Ireland Protocol. We agreed that we want to look for solutions to protect the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement. We’ll talk again soon.”
Šefčovič said in a separate tweet: “Both sides agree to seek solutions around the Protocol to bring predictability and certainty to the people of Northern Ireland. The EU is committed to a joint effort. The teams will meet soon. James and I keep in touch.”
Officials on both sides said the atmosphere had warmed since Truss replaced Boris Johnson as prime minister.
Downing Street announced on Friday that it has agreed to meet EU leaders at a summit in Prague next week.
Downing Street said: “The continent faces unprecedented common challenges, driven by [Russian president Vladimir] Putin’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine, and Britain is determined to work with international allies to find solutions.”
Truss prioritizes Britain’s economic growth above all else, and the ongoing row with the EU over Northern Ireland’s trade deals threatens that goal.
Truss held talks that British officials described as “positive” with French President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen at the United Nations in New York last week.
British diplomats said Truss wanted to settle the Northern Ireland dispute before the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement next Easter, potentially leading to a 2023 state visit by US President Joe Biden to London.
The President has called on the UK and EU to reach a negotiated settlement on the protocol.
The protocol kept Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market for goods to avoid a post-Brexit border on the island of Ireland.
It requires controls on products entering the region from Britain, which many Northern Ireland trade unionists say undermines the integrity of the UK. Companies complain about bureaucracy.
The dispute over protocol has paralyzed politics in Northern Ireland and new elections could be called if the Stormont Assembly and power-sharing executive are not restored by October 28.
The small Ulster Unionist Party welcomed the planned meeting between UK and EU officials but urged London and Brussels to “engage key Northern Ireland stakeholders in these discussions”.
Additional reporting by Jude Webber in Dublin
https://www.ft.com/content/d8131bd7-fdeb-450a-b219-e03c4ba38318 Britain and EU agree to meet to try to resolve Northern Ireland dispute