The UK has promised to push ahead with a bid to tear up parts of the Northern Ireland Brexit deal despite a “very, very positive” meeting Irish ministers.
The British government on Friday confirmed that they would not withdraw the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which would overwrite parts of the accord to be more to the UK’s liking.
The EU is already taking legal action against the British government over the protocol, which Brussels says the UK is not enforcing properly.
But despite the British insistence on bringing forward the legislation, both sides left a meeting on Friday presenting a positive outlook.
Chris Heaton-Harris, the Northern Ireland secretary, said at a press conference following the meeting that he hoped that the bill would become “redundant” during the course of negotiations.
“I want to be very positive about the chances of getting a negotiated solution,” he said.
“I believe we’re all working in good spirit, with good cooperation to deliver on the changes that are required for the protocol to be fixed or the issues within the protocol to be fixed. And we need to we need to show some progress on that.”
Northern Ireland minister Steve Baker said the “whole dynamic” of politics in Europe had been transformed by the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
“I think today we’ve had a very, very positive conversation in a new spirit of friendship, and that’s what we need to focus on. But yes, the bill will remain before parliament,” he said.
Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney echoed similar sentiments, telling reporters: “I think the conversations we’re having now with the British government certainly suggest to me that we are in a different space now, one we haven’t been in for quite some time, where there is a genuine effort … on actually how we can solve these problems together.”
The politicians were speaking at a press conference after a meeting of the British-Irish intergovernmental conference in London.
Under the Northern Ireland protocol goods travelling between Great Britain and Northern Ireland are subject to new checks and controls. The UK agreed to the protocol so that the border on the island of Ireland could be kept open without compromising the integrity of the EU single market.
But the agreement, which was a key part of the Brexit withdrawal agreement, is unpopular with some in the unionist community because it is seen as treating Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the UK.
Though polls suggest that the agreement enjoys broad support across the Northern Irish public in general, the UK government has said it needs to be changed.
Under the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which the EU has characterised as a breach of international law, parts of the protocol would be unilaterally misapplied to ease the flow of goods.
The latest poll by Lucid Talk on behalf of Queen’s University Belfast found that a majority of Northern Irish voters, 55 per cent, now view the protocol as being appropriate for managing the impact of Brexit on Northern Ireland, with 38 per cent disagreeing.