UK and EU agree to meet to try to resolve Northern Ireland dispute

British and European officials agreed to meet for the first time in months to discuss how to resolve a bitter dispute over Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trade arrangements, a sign that new British Prime Minister Liz Truss wants to improve relations with Brussels.

Negotiations to find a breakthrough on the Northern Ireland Protocol, part of the Brexit deal that regulates trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, collapsed in February.

But on Friday, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly spoke to Maros Ševović, the European Union’s Brexit negotiator, and agreed that officials would meet “soon” to consider starting the stalled talks.

The dispute over the protocol has strained relations between the two sides since the United Kingdom left the European Union in 2020, but Truss wants to resolve the dispute.

Cleverly said in a tweet: “Nice to speak to Maroch تشيevewicz today on important common issues including the Northern Ireland Protocol. We agreed we wanted to seek solutions to protect the Belfast Agreement (Good Friday). We will speak again soon.”

In a separate tweet, Sevovich said: “Both parties agree to seek solutions around the Protocol, to bring predictability and certainty to people in Northern Ireland. The EU is committed to joint efforts. Teams will meet soon. James and I will keep in touch.”

Officials on both sides said the atmosphere had improved since Truss replaced Boris Johnson as prime minister.

Downing Street announced Friday that it has agreed to meet European Union leaders at a summit in Prague next week.

Downing Street said: “The continent faces unprecedented common challenges, driven by [Russian president Vladimir] Putin’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine, and the UK is intent on working with international allies to find solutions.”

Truss prioritizes UK economic growth above all else, and the ongoing row with the EU over Northern Ireland’s trade arrangements threatens that goal.

Truss had what British officials described as “positive” conversations with French President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen at the United Nations in New York last week.

British diplomats said Truss wanted to settle the conflict in Northern Ireland before the Easter 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement, which could lead to a state visit by US President Joe Biden to London in 2023.

The President urged the United Kingdom and the European Union to reach a negotiated settlement of the Protocol.

The protocol kept Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market for goods to avoid the border on the island of Ireland after Brexit.

It requires checks on products entering the region from Great Britain, which many unionists in Northern Ireland see as undermining the integrity of the UK. Companies complained of bureaucracy.

Disagreement over protocol has paralyzed politics in Northern Ireland, and new elections may be called if the assembly in Stormont and the power-sharing executive is not restored by October 28.

The small Ulster Unionist party welcomed the planned meeting between UK and EU officials but called on London and Brussels to “involve key Northern Ireland stakeholders in these discussions”.

Additional reporting by Judd Webber in Dublin

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