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EU ‘banking on UK’s financial woes’ to break Northern Ireland Protocol deadlock

The Telegraph logo The Telegraph 27/09/2022 Joe Barnes, Nick Gutteridge, James Crisp
Maros Sefcovic European Union Brexit negotiator - Stephanie Lecocq/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock © Stephanie Lecocq/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock Maros Sefcovic European Union Brexit negotiator - Stephanie Lecocq/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Brussels believes that a deal on the Northern Ireland Protocol could be struck within a month because of economic turmoil in Britain.

Multiple sources told The Telegraph that Maros Sefcovic, the European Union’s Brexit negotiator, hopes the situation means that Liz Truss will be keen to broker a Brexit compromise in order to focus on issues at home.

Mr Sefcovic will hold a phone call with James Cleverly, the Foreign Secretary, on Friday, their first discussion since the new Government was formed.

While insiders insisted it was scheduled as an introduction, the call will most likely be used to sketch out a roadmap for future negotiations over the Protocol.

“It’s seen as a precursor for things to come,” said one source, adding that the pair would work towards a deadline of Oct 28, after which new elections have to be held for the Northern Ireland Assembly.

A second source said they hoped the call, which was rearranged after the death of Queen Elizabeth II, would be the start of a “new conversation” after UK-EU relations broke down over the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill.

Their comments offer new hope that a compromise over the Protocol, which imposes a trade border in the Irish Sea, can be found after months of deadlock over the issue.

Liz Truss Prime Minister - Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg © Provided by The Telegraph Liz Truss Prime Minister - Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg

In recent public interventions, both Mr Sefcovic and Ms Truss expressed their desire to reach a negotiated settlement.

The Prime Minister, however, has said any that deal would have to deliver all of the things set out in the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which is making its way through Parliament.

Senior EU sources have argued that the legislation, which hands ministers the power to unilaterally tear up parts of the Brexit treaty, must be taken off the table as part of an agreement.

The Telegraph understands that Mr Sefcovic will tell Mr Cleverly the EU would accept any compromise being framed as a British victory if it brings an end to the lengthy dispute.

The Protocol is seen in Brussels as the remaining stumbling block the UK and EU face before post-Brexit relations can be reset, as both sides have worked closely and positively on issues like Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

It is hoped by officials on both sides of the Channel that a pact to remove the trade barriers in the Irish Sea can be brokered before Oct 28.

If a new executive in Stormont is not formed by that date, the current caretaker government must be dissolved and a new election in Belfast called.

Jeffrey Donaldson Democratic Unionist Party - Charles McQuillan/Getty Images © Provided by The Telegraph Jeffrey Donaldson Democratic Unionist Party - Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

UK and EU officials believe avoiding this situation is key to maintaining peace and stability in Northern Ireland.

On Tuesday, Westminster heaped pressure on the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to drop its boycott of the Northern Ireland Assembly over the Protocol.

The main unionist party has refused to engage in talks with its Sinn Fien rivals until the Brexit trading arrangements are either scrapped or overridden by the Bill.

In a sign of waning patience with the DUP, the Northern Ireland Secretary warned that there was “no excuse” for refusing to return to power sharing.

Chris Heaton-Harris, writing in the unionist Belfast News Letter, said his “priority is to see the formation of an executive as soon as possible.”

“I have met all party leaders in the Northern Ireland executive to make clear that there is no excuse for the executive not to be formed,” he said.

Calls to revive Stormont power-sharing

The Northern Ireland Protocol Bill was designed to convince the DUP into returning to Stormont after elections in May. Instead, the party said it would do that only once it was certain the Protocol would be removed or replaced.

Mr Heaton-Harris said: “I understand that the Northern Ireland Protocol is causing real problems and that we must find a solution. I believe this can be found through a negotiated settlement with the EU. But if this is not possible, we will continue with our legislation to resolve the very serious issues with the Protocol.”

However, he also echoed the calls from pro-Protocol parties, including Sinn Fein, to the DUP to return to devolved government so action could be taken to curb the cost of living crisis.

“The people of Northern Ireland are facing a challenging period due to high energy prices and cost of living pressures. They deserve an accountable, executive-led government,” he added.

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