The UK is braced for a major Brexit breakthrough in the coming weeks, as the EU appears to have undergone a shift in approach when it comes to the Northern Ireland Protocol. Meanwhile, UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly is gearing up for crunch talks in Northern Ireland on Wednesday to discuss the hated Brexit deal. Mr Cleverly will be joined by Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris to meet with political leaders and key businesses.
The UK has been locked in talks with the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol – which was agreed as part of the withdrawal agreement to avoid a hard border in Ireland post-Brexit – since October 2021.
But there appears to have been a softening in the EU’s approach to the protocol in recent weeks.
Last week, Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar acknowledged that the Northern Ireland Protocol had “perhaps” been “too strict”, admitting that “mistakes” were made on both sides in the handling of Brexit.
The Irish Taoiseach, who was part of the negotiation process to agree on the Northern Ireland Protocol, said he would be “flexible and reasonable” when attempting to solve issues.
However, Mr Varadkar’s spokesperson clarified that he didn’t intend to suggest that the text of the Northern Ireland protocol could be renegotiated.
DUP Leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson Mr Varadkar’s comments show he “recognises the political reality” of the situation.
But he told Express.co.uk that Northern Ireland needs to “see a fundamental change of attitude in the negotiations if we are to see an outcome that is durable”.
The softening in relations between the UK and the EU was also seen this week when a major agreement was reached over the EU’s access to UK IT systems.
According to a joint statement from Maros Sefcovic and Mr Cleverly, the agreement creates a “new basis” for talks on the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The two leaders met in London yesterday, in a meeting which was described as being “cordial and constructive”.
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“It was a mistake for its authors to press ahead with an agreement that has harmed Northern Ireland’s constitutional economic place within the United Kingdom.
“Whilst Mr Varadkar’s comments indicate he now recognises the political reality in Northern Ireland we need to see a fundamental change of attitude in the negotiations if we are to see an outcome that is durable”.
Meanwhile, fellow DUP MP Ian Paisley Jr called on UK lawmakers to “test the bona fides of Leo Varadkar’s comments and see if Europe will concede necessary reform”.
He added: “His Majesty’s Government has the power now to move and maximise the benefit for the UK by pressing on with the Protocol Bill without delay”.
The recent change in tone from the EU is understood to be a result of the latest involvement from the Biden administration, which recently appointed Congressman Joe Kennedy as US Special Envoy for Northern Ireland.
A Conservative insider told Express.co.uk that the US is “pushing” the European Union to be less “rigid” in its position, claiming Mr Biden’s government is trying to “encourage compromise from their end”.
It is “applying pressure” on the EU, the source said, in order to find a solution by April 2023 – 25 years from when the Good Friday Agreement was signed.
Mr Paisley Jr told Express.co.uk that he thinks this assessment of the US position is “on the money”, explaining: “I know the US President wants a lap of honour on Ireland with the 25th anniversary.”