Post-Brexit deal for Northern Ireland ‘inching towards conclusion’, says Irish PM

Leo Varadkar has said talks on the Northern Ireland Protocol are inching towards a conclusion (Niall Carson/PA) (PA Wire)
Leo Varadkar has said talks on the Northern Ireland Protocol are inching towards a conclusion (Niall Carson/PA) (PA Wire)

Negotiations over the Northern Ireland Protocol are “inching towards conclusion”, the Irish Taoiseach has indicated.

Leo Varadkar was speaking as speculation mounts that a deal may be announced in the coming days.

Talks between the UK and EU to fix issues with the post-Brexit trading arrangements have been ongoing.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen had been expected to travel to Britain on Saturday, and was to meet the King at Windsor Castle.

UK Government sources confirmed Ms von der Leyen’s trip was called off raising questions over whether Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had torpedoed the plan.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, a former business secretary and senior member of the Tory Eurosceptic European Research Group (ERG), had said of the planned meeting: “If there were a plan to bring the King in before there is domestic political agreement, it would border on constitutional impropriety.”

Meawhile the DUP has pressed the UK Government to act on unionist concerns around the impact of the protocol on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and impact on the union.

DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson has demanded action on the protocol before his party re-enters devolved government.

Speaking in Galway on Saturday, Mr Varadkar commended the “level of engagement” in recent months.

He said he was cautious about saying anything that might risk the process, but indicated he believes there is a possibility of agreement in the next few days.

“Certainly the deal isn’t done yet,” Mr Varadkar told RTE.

“But I do think we are inching towards conclusion and I really want to thank the UK Government and the European Commission and the Northern Ireland parties for the level of engagement that they’ve done in recent months to get us to this point.

“I would just encourage everyone to go the extra mile to come to an agreement because the benefits are huge.

“They allow us to have the Northern Ireland Assembly back up and running in the north and the Good Friday Agreement working properly again, and also to put relations between the United Kingdom and Ireland and the European Union on a much more positive footing.”

Meanwhile Sunak has said his government was “giving it everything” to strike a deal, adding it was vital to ensure a return to power-sharing.

“There’s unfinished business on Brexit and I want to get the job done,” the prime minister told The Sunday Times.