A genuine effort by the new British government to settle a long-running post-Brexit trade row over Northern Ireland has created a “flicker of optimism” as talks resume with the European Union, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said on Friday.
British and EU officials this week held their first talks in seven months on the standoff over the Northern Ireland protocol, the part of the Brexit deal that mandated checks on goods moving to Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom because the province has an open land border with EU member state Ireland.
Coveney said he had a very good meeting with his new British counterpart, James Cleverly, in London on Thursday but that there were still strong differences of opinion between Brussels and London on how to ease the burden of the checks.
“There is certainly a new air of positivity and I think that has created a flicker of optimism,” Coveney told national broadcaster RTE.
“There is a lot of warm language at the moment. I don’t think we should get carried away with but I certainly think we should recognise that there is a genuine effort coming from this new team in the British government. Time will tell whether of course the compromises necessary to get a deal are possible.”
While London has pressed ahead with legislation that would unilaterally scrap key parts of the protocol, Coveney said the fact that this would be tied up in parliament probably well into next year created a window to find a deal.
He also said the risk of destabilising fresh elections in Northern Ireland should also focus minds. The Democratic Union Party (DUP) has refused to restore Northern Ireland’s devolved parliament, after elections in May, until all the checks are removed.
Coveney said London would have to call another poll by the end of October “if we haven’t made some progress”. While the British government is obliged to do so if a new power-sharing government is not formed, it can also introduce new laws to extend the deadline.
“I’m not suggesting we will get everything done by Oct. 28, certainly we won’t, but we do need to work towards trying to make some progress,” Coveney told Newstalk radio in a separate interview.
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