UK ends standoff with EU as hopes rise for Northern Ireland Brexit deal

Talks between Irish foreign minister and UK counterpart announced amid change in ‘mood music’

Simon Coveney, the Irish foreign minister, is flying to London for talks with his UK counterpart, James Cleverly, as hopes rise of an outline deal to end the bitter dispute over the Northern Ireland Brexit arrangements within weeks.

Talks at official level will start on Thursday afternoon by video link before a working dinner between the two ministers.

“Both sides have agreed to engage this week, for the first time really since mid-February,” Coveney told reporters in Dublin. “The mood music has changed quite fundamentally. We welcome that and we will work on, not only the relationships to rebuild trust, but also work on solutions in a practical way,” he added.

In a second round of meetings on Friday, Coveney will meet the Northern Ireland secretary, Chris Heaton-Harris, and the Northern Ireland minister Steve Baker, who astounded many this week when he apologised to Ireland and the EU for the behaviour of the Brexit camp he led during Theresa May’s premiership.

In a clear sign of a thaw in EU-UK relations, Liz Truss will at the same time attend the inaugural meeting of the European Political Community, a new body driven by the French president, Emmanuel Macron, to link EU member states with other European countries not in the bloc. She is expected to meet both Macron and the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen.

The talks come as Baker – a former chair of the European Research Group (ERG), made up of Eurosceptic Tory MPs – slapped down David Frost in a Twitter spat over how the UK should conduct itself. In reference to a plea by Lord Frost and a Northern Ireland journalist to keep to the UK’s red lines, Baker tweeted: “Neither of you seem to have bothered with my comments on resolve. But the EU and the Irish have. And on red lines, the point is not to discuss them in public. Not to have none.”

Neither of you seem to have bothered with my comments on resolve. But the EU and the Irish have.

And on red lines, the point is not to discuss them in public. Not to have none. 🙄

— Steve Baker MP FRSA 🗽 (@SteveBakerHW) October 5, 2022

Coveney and Cleverly will have a working dinner in London as part of a bilateral meeting that will cover Ukraine, the UN security council and Brexit. They have already spoken by phone twice and met at a security council meeting last month in New York, but this is the first full bilateral, indicating the priority status of the Northern Ireland issue.

Sources say Truss has made it clear she “wants a deal” and is keen to get the Northern Ireland issue out of her in-tray to allow her tackle the sizeable challenges she faces with the British economy, Ukraine and the cost of living crisis.

The former Northern Ireland secretary Julian Smith described the resumption of talks as “good news”. He said the government now had to get a “deal that broadly meets the needs of all sides in NI” but the EU also had to “lean in to address many of the issues raised by unionism”.

Some are hoping an outline deal could be struck by 28 October, the deadline for the Democratic Unionist party (DUP) to return to power sharing in the Stormont assembly.

Earlier this week Edwin Poots, who was briefly leader of the DUP last year, warned the political impasse in Northern Ireland could mean a “funeral” for the very peace accord that set up power sharing.

Many believe a deal could be done to remove physical checks on goods going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland but the role of the European court of justice will be tricky as it is a red line for both sides.

The DUP is holding its annual conference on Friday, where divisions on the latest developments are expected to be aired.


Lisa O'Carroll Brexit correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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