Brexit: EU and UK close to deal on Northern Ireland, report British media
Negotiators from the European Commission and the British government are close to an agreement on Northern Ireland, report British media on Tuesday. UK prime minister Rishi Sunak could announce new agreements on trade between Britain and Northern Ireland as soon as next week. He will meet several European leaders next weekend to start the process.
As part of the Brexit negotiations, Brussels and London agreed on the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol in 2019. This should avoid a "hard border" on the Irish island and secure the peace achieved with the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. Specifically, it was agreed that Northern Ireland will leave the European Union along with the rest of the UK, but that the region will remain part of the European single market and customs union.
However, the British government has been trying to rewrite the protocol for a long time, while the European Commission - the British people's interlocutor in Europe - insists that the text cannot be modified. The fact that goods exported from Britain to Northern Ireland will have to be checked is a particular thorn in the British side.
According to the Financial Times, both parties have worked out a system of 'green lanes' and 'red lanes'. Exports of British goods to a final destination in Northern Ireland would be subject to minimal controls, while goods destined for the European market via Northern Ireland would be subject to stricter controls
However, the EU and the UK still disagree on the role of the European Court of Justice. The EU believes judges in Luxembourg should continue to be able to make the final judgement on everything related to European law, including Northern Ireland, while UK leaders feel that that opposes everything Brexit stands for. The Northern Irish DUP is currently blocking the formation of a regional government to protest that protocol.
The Guardian writes on Tuesday that an agreement could be announced as soon as next week. Sunak will hold talks with European leaders next weekend, on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, reports the Financial Times. French president Emmanuel Macron, German chancellor Olaf Scholz and European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen will attend the talks. Alexander De Croo's office confirmed that the Belgian PM is also invited.
Nevertheless, there are still many uncertainties about a possible agreement. It remains to be seen whether the protocol will be rewritten, or if negotiators will limit themselves to a few additions. In the first case, the text will have to be reapproved by the European Parliament and the UK House of Commons. In the second, only the British-European Joint Committee, which oversees the implementation of the Brexit agreement, will have to give its opinion.
© FREDERICK FLORIN / AFP