UK and EU to hold fresh N Ireland protocol talks after progress on data
Rishi Sunak’s bid to ‘finish’ Brexit comes at a crucial week in which crucial talks over settling the dispute over Northern Ireland’s trade relations and a Tory revolt brewing over a proposed EU law pyre will take place.
On Monday, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly will hold talks with European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič to pave the way for an agreement in the first quarter of 2023 on the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol, which will govern the region’s trade arrangements.
Last week, the two sides secured a temporary breakthrough with an agreement that will allow the EU to share “real-time” UK data on trade flows across the Irish Sea from Britain to Northern Ireland.
Cleverly and Šefčovič’s follow-up video calls are designed to find out if there is enough common ground to enable the next phase of intense and secret talks in the so-called “tunnel.”
The Northern Ireland Protocol, part of Boris Johnson’s 2019 Brexit deal, created a border for intra-British trade from Britain to Northern Ireland, which remains part of the EU’s single market for goods. But the Democratic Unionist Party, the region’s largest pro-British political force, withdrew from a joint-power government over its objections to the protocol.
Both UK and EU officials tried to downplay the chances of success on Monday. A British official said: “That’s a scenario, but I’m not particularly betting on it.”
EU diplomats are calling the talks “confidence-building,” with both sides eyeing the possibility of resolving the matter ahead of April’s 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement that ended decades of conflict in Northern Ireland.
Much depends on whether Sunak feels able to take on the Eurosceptics with a compromise deal within his own party and whether the EU can show more flexibility in its position.
Meanwhile, Sunak’s plan for an automatic purge of “residual EU law” from the UK code at the end of 2023 is coming under fresh criticism from senior Tory MPs who want Parliament to have a greater say in the process.
The EU retained law bill, which has its final Commons reporting phase on Wednesday, includes a “sunset clause” that scraps all EU legislation that has not been specifically reviewed and retained by ministers.
Former Brexit Secretary David Davis, former Justice Secretary Sir Robert Buckland and Chair of the Commons Justice Committee Sir Bob Neill have backed a move to give Parliament more say in the process.
Stella Creasy, the Labor MP behind amending the bill, is hoping more Tory MPs will support it too; The idea of giving Parliament a greater say has been rejected by the government in the past, prompting a showdown in the House of Commons.
Creasy, leader of the Labor Movement for Europe, said: “If Brexit was about taking back control, it wasn’t about taking back control from Parliament and handing it to Number 10.”
The amendment would require the government to publish a full list of all laws to be repealed at least three months before their expiration date. Parliament could then take a decision to amend the list.
Ministers have been unable to say exactly how many “retained EU laws” are in the code; Many of them deal with topics such as consumer rights and environmental protection.
Last year, the Financial Times revealed that the National Archives had uncovered an additional 1,400 measures, in addition to the 2,400 previously identified.