Brexit: NI Protocol talks to intensify next week

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Brexit: NI Protocol talks to intensify next week
Liz Truss and Maroš ŠefčovičImage source, EPA
Image caption,
Liz Truss and Maroš Šefčovič will meet again later in January

The latest talks on the NI Protocol were cordial and intensified negotiations are due next week, the UK and EU say.

Negotiators have been holding aimed at reaching agreement on changes to the protocol.

The protocol keeps NI in the EU's single market for goods and EU customs rules are enforced at its ports.

That means new paperwork and processes when importing materials and equipment from GB.

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Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and Maroš Šefčovič, the EU's chief negotiator, issued a joint statement outlining their shared a desire for a positive relationship and commitment to meet again on 24 January.

The last time there was a joint statement on the protocol was last February, when Michael Gove was lead UK negotiator.

The UK is seeking fundamental changes to the operation and oversight of the protocol, while the EU has offered limited changes aimed at reducing the affect on Northern Ireland businesses.

"I think there is a deal to be done… I do want to make progress," said Ms Truss earlier.

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A different approach but no progress - yet

When Lord Frost became the minister responsible for the protocol one of his first actions was to unilaterally extend "grace periods" without lifting the phone to tell Maroš Šefčovič what was coming.

The approach from Liz Truss could not be more different.

Mr Šefčovič was treated to a sun-dappled stroll in the grounds of Chevening, the Foreign Office country mansion.

A joint statement on the negotiations has also been a rarity in recent times.

But there does not yet appear to have been progress in terms of substance.

Technical negotiations which were paused over the Christmas holidays will now intensify.

So we will have to wait until Mrs Truss and Mr Šefčovič meet again later this month to get a sense of whether there is a deal to be done.

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Meanwhile, an industry survey suggested more businesses may be getting to grips with the effect of the Northern Ireland Protocol which was agreed by the EU and the UK government in October 2019.

But unionist parties say this so-called Irish Sea border undermines Northern Ireland's position in the UK.

Manufacturing NI surveyed 163 Northern Ireland-based manufacturers in the first week of January.

'More work is required'

Just under a quarter of the Manufacturing NI survey's respondents said they were still struggling with protocol processes.

However, that is significantly down from 41% when Manufacturing NI conducted its last survey in July 2021.

The survey also showed an increase in respondents saying they had seen an increase in business with the rest of the UK as a result of the protocol.

Building under constructionImage source,
Image caption,
More than 160 NI-based manufacturers were surveyed in the first week of January

Under the terms of the protocol, and controls.

Manufacturing NI said this suggested that "the confusion around the status of NI goods and unfettered access in early 2021 has reduced".

"GB customers are increasingly looking at Northern Ireland to supply them as supply chains in GB become strained under the new Brexit import requirements."

However, the organisation cautioned that the UK and EU would have to do more to live up to the commitments given to Northern Ireland.

It said: "The commitment from both the UK and the EU in the protocol preamble was that the application of the protocol should impact as little as possible on the everyday life of communities in Northern Ireland".

"The survey confirms that this is not the experience for many firms.

"So, more work is required."

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