Brexit breakthrough as EU finally 'recognises it needs to go further' to meet UK demands

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Brussels understands it needs to make more compromises on the Northern Ireland Protocol, according to a former European Commissioner. Sir Julian Smith said the EU “recognise that they probably will need to go further in some respects” to chief Brexit negotiator Maros Sefcovic’s offer last October.

Sir Julian made the comments this morning before the Lords Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland Sub-Committee.

He said: “The EU do now, some might say belatedly, but nevertheless recognise that adjustments need to be made to the structure and the application of the Protocol.

“And I think it’s fair to say, I’m not inside the EU negotiating team, but they recognise that they probably will need to go further in some respects than the package which Maros Sefcovic brought forward last October.”

The protocol was designed to prevent a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic after Brexit.

But the arrangement has been an ongoing source of tensions as it has led to checks on goods moving between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Sir Julian described the situation as “clearly very unsatisfactory” when asked about the political, economic and social impact of the protocol as it currently stands.

He said: “The current situation is clearly very unsatisfactory.

“It has added to division, you might even say polarisation, between communities in Northern Ireland between the unionist community in particular and the government of the Republic of Ireland.

“It conditions and chills the relationship between the UK and our neighbours in the EU and indeed more widely, for example with the US.

“The lack of a Northern Ireland Executive and an Assembly has various negative consequences.

“The possibility of elections is in many people’s views likely to harden positions and not necessarily facilitate finding a way forward.

“Some of the potential positives of the situation, for example, economically you do have the situation that businesses in Northern Ireland uniquely have unrestricted access to both the UK market and EU single market which should act as big incentive for investment.

“But some of those potential positives are themselves being undermined by the political uncertainty.”

Sir John said new PM Rishi Sunak is seen by the EU as not having “some of the baggage” of Liz Truss and Boris Johnson.

He said: “The important thing to underline is that he doesn’t have some of the baggage of his immediate predecessors as seen from EU side.

“I don’t think it’s secret that Boris Johnson had something of a trust deficit in Brussels.

“Liz Truss came in as Foreign Secretary and reached out and was perceived by the EU side to be making an attempt to have a warmer relationship.

“But quite quickly that stopped. There haven’t been negotiations from February until quite recently so a long period when she was Foreign Secretary and during her time as Prime Minister, there weren’t negotiations going on.

“Rightly or wrongly many on the EU side perceived that to be because Liz Truss concluded while Foreign Secretary that conducting the kind of negotiations that she started was going to be very difficult for her in terms of managing her relationships across the Tory party.

“So rightly or wrongly many on the EU side saw the person who was charged with leading the negotiations prioritising party management.”

It comes after Mr Sefcovic spoke to Foreign Secretary James Cleverly last week, describing it as a “good conversation”.



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