Wednesday, 29 March, 2023

Irish PM says getting closer to amended Ireland Brexit trade deal

Irish PM says getting closer to amended Ireland Brexit trade deal

LONDON: Negotiations over an overhaul of Northern Ireland's post-Brexit trade arrangements are "inching towards conclusion", Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said on Saturday.

The Irish Taoiseach was speaking as speculation mounted that a deal may be announced in the coming days.

"Certainly the deal isn't done yet," Varadkar told broadcaster RTE. "But I do think we are inching towards conclusion."

Talks between the UK and EU to fix issues with the post-Brexit trading arrangements have been ongoing for some time, reports AFP.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen had been expected to travel to Britain on Saturday and was to meet King Charles III at Windsor Castle.

UK government sources confirmed to the PA news agency that von der Leyen's trip was called off.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's office told AFP earlier Saturday that talks were "ongoing" with further discussions expected in "coming days".

Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) opposes the Northern Ireland Protocol, the trading arrangement negotiated during Brexit talks which kept the province in the EU's single market for physical goods after the rest of the UK left.

The party -- the second biggest after regional elections last year -- is refusing to re-enter a power-sharing government in Belfast.

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson has said the protocol must be not just reformed but replaced, "by rewriting the legally binding treaty text" with the EU.

Sunak also faces challenges winning support for any agreement from parts of his own Conservative Party.

One key issue exercising the DUP and right wingers in Sunak's party is the prospect of the EU's European Court of Justice retaining oversight of the protocol, without input from Northern Irish lawmakers.

But Sunak is also under pressure to rebalance strained ties with the EU as a way of revitalising the UK economy. It has been hit hard by reduced trade since Brexit as well as by the Covid pandemic and the war in Ukraine.