With talks between the EU and UK continuing over the Northern Ireland Protocol, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, has said that discussions could drag on into the new year.
Speaking in London ahead of a meeting with Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis and the UK’s Brexit Minister Lord Frost, Mr. Coveney said it was important to encourage both sides to try and find “landing zones and compromise positions on important issues."
“I don’t think there will be a full deal on all issues related to the protocol before Christmas,” Coveney continued.
“I think that would be unrealistic at this stage, but I think some things can be agreed this side of Christmas, hopefully, as I say, giving certainty to people in Northern Ireland in terms of the supply of medicines from Great Britain into Northern Ireland.”
In recent days London has had to deny that the U.S. is delaying a deal with the UK over removing tariffs on UK steel over London’s threat to trigger Article 16, suspending parts of the Protocol.
The Financial Times claimed it had seen an official communication from a U.S. Commerce Department official who stated that talks would not progress due to UK government threats to trigger Article 16.
The Biden administration has warned Britain against altering the Protocol, which keeps Northern Ireland in the EU single market for goods and thus keeping the trade border in Ireland open, while at the same time shifting checks from Britain to Northern Ireland ports.
In the House of Commons, British trade minister, Penny Mordaunt, denied the claims, saying the Protocol negotiations with Brussels and the steel tariff talks with the U.S., were “two entirely separate issues."
She added: “We don’t do ourselves any favors if we perpetuate these false narratives."
And in further Protocol developments the Financial Times in London has further reported that the economy of Northern Ireland has largely recovered from the hit of Covid-19 better than any other region of the UK, this according to data from the Office for National Statistics.
The paper say that the statistics “point to it (NI) prospering under the Northern Ireland Protocol”.
SDLP Brexit spokesperson, Matthew O’Toole MLA, said this is further evidence showing that the Protocol is shielding Northern Ireland from the worst effects of Brexit.
“Throughout this year we have heard lurid warnings and claims that the Northern Ireland economy was on the verge of collapse. In fact, we have outperformed regions in Britain.
“The Protocol is inferior to EU membership, but local businesses have something that firms in Britain have lost – access to both British and European markets. As well as finding solutions to practical issues around implementation, we should be maximizing the benefits from dual market access that we are already seeing.”
Back in August, figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) in the Republic of Ireland showed major growth in exports from the North to the South from the start of the year since the implementation of the Protocol.
And significant new job announcements in recent weeks in Craigavon, County Armagh, and on the outskirts of North Belfast have been hailed as further evidence that that the Protocol has benefits for the North of Ireland.