Belgium, (Brussels Morning Newspaper) UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen agreed to seek a solution on the NI Protocol.
Sunak’s office noted that the two leaders agreed to work together to find a solution at the COP27 conference in Egypt, according to Reuters reporting on Monday.
The UK government pointed out that the NI Protocol caused “very real problems” in Northern Ireland and stressed the importance of addressing the issue.
Soon after he took office as PM, Sunak called von der Leyen and called for finding a “negotiated solution” to the problem that is driving a wedge between the UK and the EU.
The NI Protocol is part of the Brexit agreement that set up a customs border between Ireland and the UK. The previous UK administration called for amending the protocol to solve problems that it caused and threatened to withdraw from the agreement unilaterally.
Micheál Martin, Irish Taoiseach, recently noted that he was “very encouraged” by his talk with Sunak and expressed belief that the PM understands the importance of finding “a way back to an agenda defined by growth and cooperation.”
According to some EU diplomats, the UK cannot afford to wage a trade war with the EU, warning that it could break out if Britain decides to withdraw from the NI Protocol unilaterally.
One EU diplomat commented on Sunak’s announced new approach to the bloc, noting “there are lots of positive noises… that’s good, but there isn’t actually any substance to gauge it yet.”
Another EU diplomat reminded “we had similar hopes with Liz Truss” and added “there isn’t much apprehension left when it is the third prime minister in a couple of months.”
The EU offered to drop some of the most inconvenient parts of the protocol in October last year, but the two sides made little progress on the issue since then. According to both sides, the atmosphere at talks is friendly, but progress is slow.
EU officials are to test access to real-time data on trade between the UK and Ireland next week. The issue has been irritating both sides for months.