BRITAIN re-starts talks with the EU tomorrow amid hopes of a Northern Ireland protocol breakthrough.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly is holding fresh discussions with European Commission vice-president Maroš Šefcovic about lifting trade barriers between Northern Ireland and Britain.
The UK will re-start talks with the EU amid hopes of a Northern Ireland protocol breakthrough
It comes as ex-DUP leader Arlene Foster warns in today’s Sun on Sunday that the protocol is undermining the Belfast Agreement, signed on Good Friday 1998 — which secured peace in Northern Ireland.
She called for it to be replaced to protect the Agreement and restore power sharing in Stormont.
Northern Ireland’s ruling executive has not met since February 2022 when the DUP’s Paul Givan quit as first minister.
The DUP hates the NI protocol for erecting trade barriers between Britain and Northern Ireland.
The party is insisting the protocol must be axed before it rejoins power sharing at Stormont.
Sources close to the talks with the EU say the “mood music” is good.
There are reportedly hopes that the UK and EU could soon enter the “tunnel” phase of talks.
This involves negotiations so secret that both sides make no public comment on them.
‘Made a real difference’ – by Arlene Foster, Former First Minister of Northern Ireland
IN April it will be the 25th anniversary of the historic Belfast Agreement, signed on Good Friday 1998.
In that time we have made Northern Ireland a safe, stable place for people to invest in, to work in. It is a good place to live, to go to school.
Irish PM Bertie Ahern, left, US Senator George Mitchell and Tony Blair after signing the peace deal in 1998
Thanks to devolution and local administration we have been able to make a real difference.
But we need to get back to that positivity again.
We don’t have proper government in Northern Ireland at the moment.
The Parliament is no longer sitting and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Chris Heaton-Harris, has set Thursday as the deadline to get it sorted.
There is no prospect of that happening, so he will have to call an election or put the deadline back.
But there will be huge pressure to get devolution up and running before the Belfast Agreement anniversary in April.
It would be great to have devolution back – but only if Northern Ireland is fully part of the UK.
The agreement is very clear about Northern Ireland being a full part of the United Kingdom until the people of Northern Ireland decide otherwise.
According to the polls, there is no sign of them doing that.
The Northern Ireland protocol, which was agreed following Brexit, was supposed to protect the Belfast Agreement.
But actually what it has done is cause great damage to the Agreement and we have only really started to acknowledge that since devolution collapsed in Northern Ireland.
At least the Republic of Ireland’s new Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar has acknowledged that mistakes were made drawing up the protocol.
News that the EU and UK have agreed to share IT data with Brussels about trade across the Irish Sea is being hailed as a breakthrough.
But it’s not. It is just an agreement on technical sharing of information.
Meanwhile, I am working with Together UK.
It is an organisation that believes that the United Kingdom is much better and stronger if England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland work together.
I want Northern Ireland to play its part in the UK and realise the benefits of being in a Union.
So we will be engaging with people right across the UK and asking that Monty Python question – what did Britain ever do for you?
The answer? It made us much stronger on the world stage.
Arlene Foster is a former First Minister of Northern Ireland