The British government’s first round of talks to strengthen cooperation with the EU after Brexit was boycotted by Sinn Féin.
British Foreign Secretary James Wise briefed party leaders on the latest progress in UK-EU negotiations in Belfast on Wednesday (January 11). The talks aim to finally resolve the dispute over the Northern Ireland protocol.
Michelle O’Neill, leader of Northern Ireland’s Sinn Féin and appointed first minister after Northern Ireland’s general election last May, declined to attend the meeting. He stipulated that party leader Mary Lou MacDonald, who had traveled from Dublin for the meeting, be allowed to attend.
Intelligent meetings were held in Belfast with the pro-British Democratic Unionist Party and the Ulster Unionist Party and the Cross-Party Alliance, neither of which supported a united Ireland.
Macdonald, who is the leader of the opposition in the Irish parliament but does not hold a ministerial post, accused the government in Westminster of “bad faith and irritation”.
“In my discussions with Northern Ireland’s political leaders, I am of the view that while an agreement on the protocol is essential, devolved institutions must return as soon as possible,” Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton Harris said.
Northern Ireland has been in a political stalemate since March, when the DUP, which supports Northern Ireland in the UK, resigned from the government in Belfast. He refused to form a government with Sinn Féin, who won the general election in May, until his concerns about the Northern Ireland protocol were allayed.
According to the Good Friday Agreement, two major parties representing the national and trade union communities should be involved in government.
Last week, new Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said the terms of the protocol were “too strict” and worked “without full enforcement”, raising hopes that the European Commission would soften its negotiating position somewhat.
Earlier this week, the EU and the UK agreed to access a new database that would provide real-time information on goods moving from the UK to Northern Ireland.
Further talks between Cleverly and European Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič are scheduled for next Monday. UK and Brussels officials had hoped to be close to a deal before UK ministers announced a date for fresh elections in Belfast, which have been legally mandated after failing to form a devolved government.
The United Kingdom aims to conclude both general elections and the protocol-related agreement by April, when US President Joe Biden is expected to make his first state visit to the UK to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.
[Bearbeitet von Alice Taylor]
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