British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak walks outside Number 10 Downing Street, in London, Britain, Nov 9, 2022. (HENRY NICHOLLS / REUTERS)
LONDON – British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on Thursday he was pleased with the progress the government was making on resolving a long running post-Brexit trade row with the European Union over Northern Ireland.
Technical talks recently resumed for the first time in seven months on the Northern Ireland protocol, the part of the Brexit deal that mandated checks on some goods moving to Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom due to the province's open land border with EU member Ireland.
I discussed this (the Northern Ireland protocol) with the (Irish prime minister Micheál Martin), we had a very positive meeting, and what I want to do is find a negotiated solution, preferably.
British Prime Minister
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"We all recognize that the protocol is having a real impact on the ground," Sunak told reporters at the British-Irish Council summit in northwest England, the first time a British prime minister attended the bi-annual meeting in 15 years.
"I discussed this with the (Irish prime minister Micheál Martin), we had a very positive meeting, and what I want to do is find a negotiated solution, preferably," he said.
"And I'm pleased with the progress that we're making in these early days in this job, and my focus is to try and find a resolution here."
A spokesman for Sunak added that the prime minister told Martin that any deal must solve the full range of issues caused by the protocol but hoped for flexibility and pragmatism.
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Perceptions that the protocol erodes Northern Ireland's place in the UK have sparked anger among many unionists and led to a months-long boycott of the regional power-sharing government by the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).
Martin, meeting his British counterpart for the first time since Sunak's appointment last month, said he welcomed that time and space had been given to make progress on the negotiations and allow for pragmatic operational solutions.
"People and businesses in Northern Ireland have been crystal clear that they want agreed solutions to the protocol issues and now is the time to do so," Martin said in a statement.
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Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney has said a reworked agreement is possible by the end of the year if there is a political appetite on both sides to do so.