Dispute needs settled before poll: EU chief

Ireland’s EU commissioner has said the UK and Brussels must find a solution to the row over the Northern Ireland Protocol before the Assembly elections later this year.

EU Commissioner Mairead McGuinness
EU Commissioner Mairead McGuinness

Mairead McGuinness, the EU financial services commissioner, said yesterday that she hopes the appointment of Liz Truss to the role of Brexit negotiator will bring some “pragmatism to the situation”.

The foreign secretary has taken charge of the UK negotiations on the protocol after Lord Frost’s resignation from the government last month.

She is set to hold face-to-face talks with her EU counterpart – European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic – later this week.

Ms Truss has already said she will not sign up to any arrangement that involved checks on goods moving within the UK.

Checks on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland are central to the operation of the protocol in its current form.

The Cabinet minister also reiterated the government threat to suspend elements of the protocol – by triggering its Article 16 mechanism – if a negotiated settlement with the EU proves elusive.

Ms McGuinness, speaking on RTE radio yesterday morning, said she has seen the foreign secretary’s comments.

She said: “They probably reflect the current view, if you like, as was held by her predecessor, but, on the other hand, I’m hoping that Liz Truss will also bring some pragmatism to the situation.”

The senior EU official said Northern Ireland needs a solution to the protocol impasse “before we get into campaign mode for the Assembly elections”.

Those elections are scheduled to take place in May.

Ms McGuinness said it is important to give the UK and EU negotiators “time” and added that she hopes 2022 can bring a “fresh start” to talks.

On Monday, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said, following a meeting with Ms Truss, that the UK government needs to provide a timetable for when changes will be made to the protocol.

Sir Jeffrey has indicated that a “pause” on the DUP’s threat to collapse the power-sharing institutions at Stormont over the protocol will remain pending the outcome of renewed negotiations between the UK and EU.