Dublin, (EFE).- The British Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, concluded this Friday a round of talks with the Northern Ireland parties, after which they all agreed that significant progress has been made to reach an agreement with Brussels on the Brexit protocol for the region.
This positive and unanimous assessment of the progress of the negotiations between the United Kingdom and the European Commission (EC) has raised expectations about the possibility of the parties closing a definitive agreement in the coming days.
Especially significant has been the change in tone experienced by the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), the second regional formation and whose rejection of the Protocol in its current form has kept the autonomous power-sharing government suspended for a year.
Its leader, Jeffrey Donaldson, highlighted today, after months of criticism, that there is “progress” in the negotiations, although he warned that there are still “some areas that require work.”
After meeting Sunak in Belfast, he acknowledged that he had not yet seen the “final text” of a possible deal, suggesting, he said, that “clearly there will be more talks” between London and Brussels.
Brexit’s “turning point”
“This is a key moment, the next generation of Northern Irish people need all of us, especially the Prime Minister and the European Commission, to work collectively to resolve these issues and come to a context where political institutions can be restored.” declared Donaldson.
The unionist leader recalled that the decisions that Sunak and the European Commission will take “will condemn Northern Ireland to more divisions or clear the way for reconciliation” and the end of the political paralysis in the region.
For this reason, he declared himself “hopeful” at the possibility that the parties reach an agreement, but said that he is not interested in “times”, but rather “it is done well”.
The president of Sinn Féin, Mary Lou McDonald, also left satisfied with her first face-to-face with Sunak since he took the reins of the British Government and considered that there have been “very significant advances” to reach an agreement “totally possible and necessary”. .
According to her, this pact must guarantee Northern Ireland’s access to the single community market and keep its border with the Republic of Ireland open, as established in the Good Friday peace agreement (1998).
Sinn Féin insists on the need for protocol
“Those are the central elements and aspects that must be protected. And it seems to us that it can be done,” said the leader of Sinn Féin, the first Northern Irish formation since its historic victory in the elections last May.
In his opinion, Sunak “recognizes that the core of the protocol has worked” and has expressed the need to “negotiate and seek solutions” for “those parts that must be improved.”
“Without doubt, the protocol is a consequence of Brexit, the protocol is necessary and the prime minister has no doubts about it,” McDonald added.
This instrument, agreed by London and Brussels to avoid a physical border between the two Irelands, keeps Northern Ireland within the Community and British internal market, so that controls on trade between the United Kingdom and the EU are carried out at points Northern Irish entry, which has brought a new bureaucracy that affects trade.
This commercial border located in the Irish Sea is also a political barrier for the Protestant unionist community, which maintains that it differentiates the province and endangers its relationship with the rest of the United Kingdom, especially now that the nationalists want to advance towards their objective history of reunifying the island of Ireland.
Among the thorny issues of the protocol, Donaldson also alluded today to the role that the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) would play in commercial disputes that arise in Northern Ireland.
London and Brussels highlight progress
“When we trade within the UK then we will have to follow British standards and rules, that is our firm position. When we trade with the European Union, then of course the products we want to sell to the EU will have to meet EU standards, that’s true for the whole of the UK,” he explained.
In parallel to Sunak’s visit to Belfast, his Foreign Minister, James Cleverly, met today in Brussels with the Vice-President of the European Commission (EC) for Interinstitutional Relations, Maros Sefcovic.
The Slovenian, in charge of the dialogue on the relationship with London after Brexit, highlighted the “good progress” in the negotiations, while the British described his contacts in the community capital as “constructive”.
If Sunak manages to close the last fringes of an agreement to modify the controversial protocol, the British head of government plans to present the final text to his cabinet at their meeting next Tuesday, according to “The Times” and “The Guardian” reports, for make it public soon after.