New air of seriousness about EU/UK negotiations promises to defuse the NI Protocol for Unionists

John Manley reported earlier in the week that whilst the timetable may not coincide with the 25th anniversary of the Belfast Agreement, there seems a seriousness about EU/UK talks that was entirely missing under the Boris Johnson administration.

In today’s Irish News Newton Emerson notes that even the Restoring Northern Ireland’s Place in the Union report from a new think tank Centre for the Union, and coauthored by Jamie Bryson and Ethan Thoburn, editor of the Bruges Group…

Unionism’s practical concerns would largely melt away by adopting the red and green channel model of the sea border, which the report amusingly tries to re-invent as a sealed red “tunnel”, with one end in Larne and the other in Newry.

Unionist constitutional concerns, Newton argues, could be covered by minor amendments to the Act of Union. Despite the slippage in the projected timetable (negotiations concern far more than just the protocol) this does look like a road upwards.

The absence of the two nationalist parties (over the fact that Michelle rather than Mary Lou was invited to local party leader talks) is unfortunate but unlikely to curtail progress: not least because both Varadkar and Martin are heading north today.

The Taoiseach is travelling to Belfast on Thursday for meetings with the leaders of all the main political parties, and with the Northern Ireland Brexit Business Working Group.

The Tánaiste is travelling to Hillsborough on the same day to meet with the Secretary of State, then travelling to Armagh for a number of engagements, including a visit to the Secretariat of the North South Ministerial Council, the launch of a new Shared Island Civic Society Fund and a meeting with victims and survivors of Troubles-related violence.

These talks are not just needed for Northern Ireland but also the benefit of the wider UK economy. The de-dramatisation of the whole process should allow some practical progress to be made and the UK to shuffle a little closer to its biggest, closest market.

Big opportunities are in play for a small number of export businesses expanding in line with the double entry to both the EU and GB markets. But the fix on the Irish Sea should see relief for larger number of internal facing businesses.

That should make it politically safe for the DUP to get back into office. But probably not until the ink is dry on an actual agreement and they are certain the promised advances are actually real.

ADDS:

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson struck a positive note following their meeting, saying Mr Varadkar now had a “better understanding” of the “difficulties the protocol is creating for Northern Ireland”.

He said it was “good that the Irish Government now recognises the need now to find a solution that will help to repair those relationships”.

https://www.irishtimes.com/politics/2023/01/12/intensive-negotiations-already-under-way-between-eu-and-uk-on-protocol/

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