European Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič met with UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and Northern Ireland Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris in London on Monday, January 9 for a “cordial and constructive meeting" regarding Northern Ireland.
Šefčovič, Cleverly, and Heaton-Harris said in a joint statement that they took stock of work to find joint solutions to the concerns raised by businesses and communities in Northern Ireland during Monday's meeting.
They underlined the EU and UK’s shared commitment to protect the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement in all its parts, while protecting the integrity of both the EU Single Market and the UK internal market.
They agreed that while a range of critical issues need to be resolved to find a way forward, an agreement was reached on Monday on the way forward regarding the specific question of the EU’s access to UK IT systems.
They noted this work was a critical prerequisite to building trust and providing assurance, and provided a new basis for EU-UK discussions.
EU and UK technical teams will work rapidly to scope the potential for solutions in different areas on the basis of this renewed understanding, Monday's joint statement said.
Šefčovič, Cleverly, and Heaton-Harris are due to "take stock of progress" again on January 16.
Glad to meet @JamesCleverly and @chhcalling. We agreed on the way forward on the EU's access to UK IT systems. This means a new basis for 🇪🇺🇬🇧 discussions on the Protocol. Our teams will work rapidly to scope potential for solutions in different areas.January 9, 2023
Tánaiste Micheál Martin, Ireland’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, said he welcomed Monday’s progress.
“I welcome today’s joint statement that progress has been made on EU access to UK IT systems and that this provides a new basis for EU-UK discussions.
“It is important that joint solutions are found.”
Martin said he would be in Brussels on January 10 for meetings on the Protocol and other issues.
Later, Martin said he had good engagement with leaders from Northern Ireland ahead of his meeting with Heaton-Harris later this week.
“I’m very focused on getting all GFA institutions back up and running, and delivering for the people of Northern Ireland.”
Good engagement with NI leaders today ahead of meeting with @chhcalling later this week.
I’m very focused on getting all GFA institutions back up and running, and delivering for the people of Northern Ireland. pic.twitter.com/JCivqomNV2— Micheál Martin (@MichealMartinTD) January 9, 2023
The Telegraph reports that the pressure is now on to finalize a Northern Ireland Protocol deal by the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement in April.
US President Joe Biden, who has several times expressed his support for the Good Friday Agreement in the scope of Brexit negotiations, has reportedly warned that he will not attend the Agreement's anniversary celebrations unless a deal has been reached.
The Northern Ireland Protocol was agreed upon during the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland and preserve the Good Friday Agreement.
Under the Protocol, all goods traveling to Northern Ireland from Britain are subject to EU Single Market rules, meaning that EU customs laws are enforced at Northern Irish ports, while non-frozen meat imports are not permitted to be imported from Britain.
Unionists argue that the Protocol has created a trade border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain in the Irish Sea, threatening Northern Ireland's constitutional position as part of the United Kingdom.
In Northern Ireland's Assembly elections in May, Sinn Féin, which supports the Protocol, emerged as the largest party for the first time ever, while the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which opposes the Protocol, emerged as the second-largest party.
As a matter of protest against the Protocol, the DUP refused to enter into power-sharing in the wake of the elections. This comes just a few months after the DUP collapsed Stormont, also in protest of the Protocol.
Without an Assembly formed in time, Northern Ireland will have a new round of elections, Heaton-Harris confirmed.