Any NI Protocol deal ‘not being tied to anniversary of Good Friday Agreement’

The Government is not trying to align a breakthrough on the Northern Ireland Protocol with the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, the Foreign Secretary has said.

James Cleverly met German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock in London on Thursday and discussed the war in Ukraine as well as post-Brexit arrangements in Northern Ireland.

At a press conference after the meeting Mr Cleverly insisted the Government was not waiting for an anniversary to break the deadlock in the protocol row.

The 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement is in April, but there are fears that the power-sharing executive at Stormont will not have returned amid DUP opposition to the protocol.

The party withdrew its first minister from the executive last February in protest.

Mr Cleverly said: “We’re not going to wait for an anniversary, we are working on this with all speed and alacrity, as you would expect, and we will continue to work intensively towards a resolution on the issues that we have raised and indeed looking to address the concerns that the (European) Commission has raised as well.”

Earlier, Ms Baerbock had described the talks over the protocol as an “Achilles heel” in the UK-EU relationship, but Mr Cleverly spoke of an improved relationship between London and Brussels as he stressed the desire to find a solution.

“If this is regarded as an Achilles heel in the relationship, we are moving pretty fast and doing a huge amount of good work, notwithstanding that.

“We do recognise that the protocol is something which needs to be resolved.”

He said the Government welcomed the “much more constructive tone in the conversations” between the UK and the EU, but added that while a “strong, personal, professional relationship is a precursor to success, it is not on its own enough”.

Ms Baerbock called the Brexit decision a “personally bitter experience”.

She referenced a hit song by British band Oasis, telling reporters: “It’s like having lost a family member, but this is history. I want to be very clear, we want to leave behind the wounds of the past. Or as we tended to sing when I studied here: don’t look back in anger.”

On the protocol, she said a “good solution” is required but insisted it must be based on the existing agreement.

“It charts the best course for preserving the achievements of the peace process and for protecting the integrity of the single market.

“We, the European Union members, are willing however to address your concerns with a spirit of creativity and flexibility, because it affects the lives of the peoples of our countries.

“I think that the recent statements on the part of the European Union have had a positive tenor, and also what we have heard from the British side, and I think this should now lead to concrete negotiations and decisions so that we can find a solution.”

The UK and the EU continue to discuss the protocol while the Government maintains it could use the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill to unilaterally overhaul the arrangement if negotiations fail.

The two politicians did stress the good relationship between the two countries, despite the Brexit tensions.

Marking the meeting, the Foreign Office confirmed that the UK-Germany cultural commission will meet for the first time since 1993.