UNITED KINGDOM: Attempts by the United Kingdom to rework a portion of its Brexit agreement with the European Union and reinstate the province’s devolved assembly appear to be boosting the chances of the Northern Ireland protocol, a British minister said on Sunday.
The gathering at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham, central England, witnessed a softening of tone from some erstwhile hardliners in the conflict with the EU, reflecting a move by the Foreign Minister, James Cleverly, who is facilitating discussions.
The Northern Ireland Secretary, Chris Heaton-Harris, said, “I understand the complications, and maybe we could have understood them a bit better, sooner. But now the mood music certainly seems to be changing, and I very much hope that we get some solutions.”
He continued by saying, “Let’s hope we can put the protocol to bed, get the assembly going, and then everyone can move forward in a peaceful and prosperous Northern Ireland.”
The Northern Ireland Protocol was agreed to by both Britain and the EU as a means of preventing the reintroduction of border controls, which were viewed as essential to maintaining peace on the island and were in place between the British-run province of Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland before Britain left the EU.
According to Heaton-Harris, the protocol wasn’t intended to make trading between Northern Ireland and Britain more difficult, but it has and must be renegotiated for unionists to return to the devolved Stormont government.
In a call with Cleverly and EU negotiator Maros Sefcovic last week, he continued, “Discussions reopened with gusto on the protocol.”
With Steve Baker, a self-described “hard man of Brexit,” Heaton-Harris briefly co-chaired the European Research Group. Baker orchestrated legislator uprisings against Theresa May’s proposal and pushed for a more rigid version of Brexit.
Baker expressed sorrow for the potential harm his “ferocious determination” to push Britain out of the EU may have caused in strained relations with the group.
Baker stated that both parties had legitimate interests that Britain was prepared to respect: “It’s with humility that I want to accept and acknowledge that I and others did not always behave in a way which encouraged Ireland and the European Union to trust us.”