The EU and UK are “not that far apart” on post-Brexit legislation, the outgoing EU ambassador to the UK has claimed. João Vale de Almeida claimed that the “mood music” between the UK and the EU has changed, meaning they are more likely to reach an agreement over the controversial Northern Ireland Protocol. He said he felt “encouraged” by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s early meetings with EU leaders, saying that an agreement would transform relations.
This, Mr Vale de Almeida claimed, would clear the way for Britain to join the €95bn Horizon Europe research project.
But he said the EU and the UK need to have more contact if they are to improve relations.
He told the Financial Times: “Contact between leaders and intimacy has been lacking.
“We’ve had more summits with China than we have had with the UK.
“There have been none. That’s not normal. These people need to share their WhatsApp numbers.”
He added: “Low levels of trust existed between the two sides — everyone has to bear their share of responsibility.
“Trust begins with leaders. If there’s no personal chemistry, no common territory of conversation, there isn’t much we diplomats or bureaucrats can do.”
But looking ahead he was optimistic, saying: “There’s a new cycle in Britain and there should be a new cycle in UK-EU relations.”
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It allows Northern Ireland to remain within the EU’s single market for goods but it has faced criticism because a border was effectively created between Great Britain and Northern Ireland down the Irish Sea.
The border has led to delays, supermarket shortages and increased costs for businesses in Northern Ireland.
The Government plans to remove key parts of the protocol, such as the need for checks on goods entering Northern Ireland, through the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill.
Earlier this week, Mr Heaton-Harris announced that the Government will be introducing legislation to extend the deadline for elections to the Stormont Assembly.
An election was triggered in Stormont last week after the executive was blocked from meeting due to the Democratic Unionist Party’s (DUP) protest over the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The devolved government has not fully functioned since February, with the DUP blocking the formation of the ruling executive.
The Northern Ireland Secretary said he would introduce new legislation to extend the deadline for an election by six weeks, with an option for a further six-week extension if the situation is not resolved by the December deadline.