Britain wants to reach a deal with the European Union to quickly resolve issues over Northern Ireland after Brexit, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said on Thursday, hinting at a softer approach to what has been an intractable conflict.
The standoff over part of the Brexit deal governing trade with Northern Ireland is by far the biggest strain between the EU and Britain, which left the bloc on January 31, 2020.
A major irritant is Britain’s so-called Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which effectively rips up parts of the Brexit divorce agreement. It was introduced by Britain’s now Prime Minister Liz Truss when she was Foreign Secretary.
Fiffigt said that while the government would push that bill and push its passage through parliament, it was simply a “safety net” and his first preference was a negotiated settlement.
Referring to discussions with EU, US and Irish ministers, Cleverly told Reuters: “What I’ve seen is a collective desire to get this resolved.”
Biden and Truss discuss the NI Protocol and Russia in…
“I detect a real atmosphere of goodwill,” he added. “Our preferred option is, and always has been, a negotiated solution. That is the tone we will take in the talks.”
Both sides agreed to the Northern Ireland Protocol as a way to avoid reintroducing border controls between Northern Ireland and the Republic after Britain leaves the EU, seen as key to protecting peace on the island.
But Britain has since accused Brussels of a heavy-handed approach to moving goods between Britain and Northern Ireland, with unions in the region saying it erodes their place in the UK.
London wants parts of the agreement to be changed, but the EU maintains that the protocol is a legally binding treaty that London has freely entered into. The European Commission has launched a series of legal proceedings against the UK for breaching the agreement.