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Northern Ireland Protocol: Ireland's Coveney welcomes change in 'mood music' from UK

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By Euronews  with Reuters
Irish police set up a checkpoint on the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland as Border Communities Against Brexit protest at Carrickcarnon, Ireland, Nov. 20, 2021.
Irish police set up a checkpoint on the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland as Border Communities Against Brexit protest at Carrickcarnon, Ireland, Nov. 20, 2021.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Peter Morrison   -  

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said on Wednesday that the "mood music" from London over resolving issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol had changed fundamentally.

British and EU officials will hold their first talks in nearly eight months this week on the protocol, the part of the Brexit deal that governs the trading arrangements of the British province.

Since formal discussions were last held in February, both sides have proceeded with legal action against the other and Britain is pressing ahead with legislation that would unilaterally scrap key parts of the protocol.

"Both sides have agreed to engage this week, this is a very welcome change of course that the British government is engaging now seriously as opposed to moving ahead with unilateral action," Coveney told reporters.

"It remains to be seen whether this new look British government is willing to make compromises to get a deal done but certainly the mood music has changed quite fundamentally, we welcome that and we will work on not only relationships to rebuild trust but also work on solutions in a practical way."

Coveney said he would meet British foreign minister James Cleverly, who took up his post last month under new Prime Minister Liz Truss, for dinner in London on Thursday ahead of a British-Irish intergovernmental conference on Friday.

Shortly before Truss won the Conservative leadership contest and became prime minister, it was reported that one of her first actions might have been to trigger Article 16 of the protocol, suspending at least part of its operation unilaterally. 

This hasn't happened, and in her speech to the party conference on Wednesday, the prime minister made no mention of the issue.

European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic tweeted last Friday that he had had a good conversation with British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and that their respective teams would meet soon.

The Northern Ireland issue is one of two developments in recent days have raised hopes that the British government under Liz Truss is looking to improve relations with the European Union — in a marked softening of the UK's position from the fractious ties under her predecessor Boris Johnson.

Truss is also due to join Thursday's inaugural summit of the European Political Community (EPC), which could give Britain an opportunity to shape a new European forum from the inside after Brexit.

The idea first pitched five months ago by France's President Macron as a response to Russia's war in Ukraine and a mechanism to allow for deeper cooperation with democratic countries across the continent. 

Although the initiative has been greeted with scepticism, the summit in Prague will bring together the 27 leaders of the European Union with 17 leaders from the continent currently outside the bloc, including the UK, Turkey, Norway and Ukraine.