Time to ‘turn the corner’ on damage done by Brexit to UK-EU relations – Martin

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Irish premier Micheal Martin has said it is time for the UK and EU to “turn the corner” on the damage done to relations following Brexit.

Fresh talks between UK Brexit Minister Lord David Frost and European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic in Brussels on Friday have raised hopes of a breakthrough in the impasse over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Mr Martin said there was a need for both sides to move on from the dispute and work together to tackle crucial issues such as climate change.

At the British-Irish Council press conference in Cardiff, the Taoiseach was asked why UK/EU relations were so poor five years on from Brexit.

He said the “underlying reason” was the “historic nature” of Brexit and the length of time the UK had been a member of the EU.

“Inevitably, there will be a long period of adjustment and change,” Mr Martin said.

He added: “There’s now a need to turn the corner in the relationship. And by that I mean the macro geopolitical issues are such that we need the European Union and United Kingdom in alignment, working together on the big issues that affect the globe.

“We saw great evidence of that in Cop26 – which I thought was excellently organised and hosted by the British Government – and I believe the partnership between the United States, European Union and the UK Government on climate change is the direction of travel.

“That’s the spirit that should inform our approach in terms of a sustained constructive relationship between Europe and the UK into the future.

“I believe the first immediate step in that direction is a resolution of the issues pertaining to the operation of the protocol and, therefore, we should all direct our energies now over the next while to comprehensively, and in an enduring way, resolving those issues.

“Because I think if we can do that, I think we can then develop that stronger, proactive, constructive relationship which is urgently required, in my view, given the way the world is going, between the European Union and the United Kingdom.”

Regional cabinet meeting – Bristol
UK Communities Secretary Michael Gove (Steve Parsons/PA)

UK Cabinet minister Michael Gove said resolving the protocol row could pave the way to improved relations between the UK and EU.

“I think that making sure that we can resolve the difficulties of the protocol on the ground is, I think, one way of ensuring that we can move to an even better set of relations between European Union nations and the United Kingdom,” he said.

“It is natural that we should want to address those areas where there may be differences and dissonances, but it’s also important that we bear in mind those areas where there is harmony and progress.”

Mr Gove highlighted terrorism and climate as some of the areas where a joint UK-EU approach would be beneficial.

Earlier, Mr Gove expressed confidence that talks can progress without the need for the UK to trigger Article 16, which would suspend elements of the post-Brexit trading arrangements.

Asked if he interpreted those comments as the UK stepping back from its threat to invoke the clause, Mr Martin said: “I believe both governments (UK and Irish) and all the administrations here share a common desire to get these issues resolved through negotiation.”

Mr Martin said he detected a “genuine desire” on all sides of the issue to resolve the stand-off over the protocol in the “best interests of people in Northern Ireland on the ground”.

“Perfect must never be the enemy of the good and so I think we must be practical and pragmatic, and get these issues resolved by negotiation,” he added.

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