Tuesday, 22 November 2022
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
There is more optimism now than there has been for some time that, with a new Prime Minister, Secretary of State, Foreign Secretary and a relatively new look British Cabinet, there may be an honest effort by the current British Government to work with the EU negotiating team, led by Vice President Maroš Šefčovič, to try to address the outstanding issues linked to the Northern Ireland protocol once and for all. We know the EU side has been willing to compromise; it has already shown that. We need a similar spirit of compromise from the British side. If that is forthcoming, then we can find a way between now and the end of the year, or shortly thereafter, to get a middle-ground position in terms of landing zones on some of the outstanding issues that are very problematic, such as how we treat goods coming in from Great Britain into Northern Ireland that we know are staying in Northern Ireland in terms of purchase and consumption. We have to treat such goods very differently from that we know are in danger of travelling on to other parts of the Single Market. As Vice President Šefčovič said, by working to try to make checks virtually invisible, we can resolve the issue. That is the kind of thing that many in the unionist community have been asking for, namely, that we respect trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland to the greatest extent possible, while protecting the integrity of the Single Market and how it functions. That is the core of the deal.
Other issues need to be resolved around VAT, state aid, the role of the European Court of Justice and so on, but the core of the deal is to dramatically reduce checks on goods that are staying within the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland and are not at risk of travelling on to other parts of the Single Market. Is it going to be easy to do that? No, it is not. If it was, it would have been done long ago.
The difference is that we now have a Prime Minister who wants to negotiate a solution. I am not convinced that his two immediate predecessors were in that space, particularly because of the pressure they were under internally within their party and the fact that the politics of tension with EU have not always played well.
There are other considerations in terms of economic and cost-of-living pressures. The partnership approach between the UK and EU is something that both sides are looking to develop positively. On the back of the conversations I have had, there is a definite effort from the British Government to improve relations with Ireland and the Government here. We are responding positively to that.