Northern Ireland Protocol a ‘little too strict’, says Tánaiste Varadkar
Says there is a window of opportunity for between EU and UK as technical talks start in London
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said today the Northern Ireland Protocol, as originally designed, is a “little too strict”.
He also said the protocol is working despite not being fully implemented.
This, he said, proves there is room for “further flexibility for some changes”.
Speaking in Ireland, as talks between British and EU officials resume technical talks for the first time since February, he said a “window of opportunity” exists for agreement to between Brussels and the UK.
Ireland’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney and UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly are also due to meet today.
Tomorrow Mr Coveney will co-chair a British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference with Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris.
Speaking in Dublin, Mr Varadkar said: “We should not forget that the protocol is working.
“It was designed to prevent a hard border between north and south, and there is no hard border between north and south.
“It was designed to protect the integrity of the single market and it has, and also the Northern Ireland economy is outperforming the rest of the UK economically.
“But one thing that I would concede is that perhaps the protocol, as it was originally designed, was a little too strict.
“The protocol has not been fully implemented – and yet it is still working.
“That, you know, demonstrates that there is some room for further flexibility for some changes that hopefully would make it acceptable to all sides.”
Mr Varadkar said an agreement would be “very beneficial” as it would allow for the restoration of power sharing in Northern Ireland.
The DUP, which was beaten into second place in the Assembly elections in May, is refusing to join other parties because, it says, of the Protocol.
Speaking after an industrial relations conference at University College Dublin, Mr Varadkar also told reporters: “There is a window of opportunity now over the next couple of weeks to see if we can come to an agreement on the protocol.
“That would be very beneficial for Ireland and Northern Ireland because it would allow us to get the executive up and running, and could be helpful for Britain as well in economic terms.”
The Tánaiste, who as part of the Irish coalition government’s power sharing agreement is due to become Taoiseach for a second time in December, welcomed Northern Ireland Minister Steve Baker’s apology over his previous “ferocious” negotiating stance on Brexit.
But, he said, the significance of it remains to be seen.
Mr Baker, a strident Brexiteer and member of the anti-EU so-called European Research Group of MPs, said relations with Ireland are not “where they should be”, and added that ministers need to act with “humility” to restore relationships with the Republic and the EU.
Mr Varadkar said: “It remains to be seen what the significance of them are, but they are very welcome comments and (I) would agree with the Taoiseach on that.”
Asked about the political instability surrounding UK Prime Minister Liz Truss, he said the Irish Government does not concern itself with the UK’s domestic politics.
“That’s just not the way we operate. Liz Truss is the Prime Minister, and the British government is the British government, and the European Union, including Ireland will negotiate with them and try and come to an agreement if we can,” he said.
“We won’t concern ourselves about any individual country’s domestic politics.”
Legislation which tears up the British government’s commitment to the deal to which it earlier agreed returns to Westminster next week where it will be examined and debated by the House of Lords at Second Reading.
Earlier, ahead of his trip to London Ireland’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said the UK Government appears to be engaging “seriously” in efforts to resolve the impasse.
He said the “mood music has changed quite fundamentally”.
He told reporters in Co Donegal: “This is a very welcome change of course that the British Government is engaging now seriously, as opposed to moving ahead with unilateral action which would certainly have caused a lot more problems than it would have solved.”
Mr Coveney said Ireland’s role in protocol talks between the EU and UK would be “encouraging progress”.
He said: “I’ll be with the Foreign Secretary James Cleverly for dinner in London and I’ll be co-chairing a British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference with the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Chris Heaton-Harris on Friday.
“We will be discussing these issues on how together we can solve the outstanding problems and frustrations with the Northern Ireland Protocol.
“It was designed to prevent a hard border between north and south, and there is no hard border between north and south.”
“Of course, this is a negotiation between London and Brussels primarily, but obviously 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-look British Government is willing to make compromises to get a deal done.
“But certainly, the mood music has changed quite fundamentally, we welcome that, and we will work on not only the relationships to rebuild trust, but also work on solutions in a practical way, and I think that process very much starts in earnest this week.”