Are UK and EU FINALLY going to solve Brexit? Hopes surge for breakthrough in Northern Ireland protocol row with claims negotiations could enter secret ‘tunnel’ phase NEXT WEEK
- The UK said the EU will be given access to data on flow of goods to the province
- It was hailed a ‘basis’ for resolving the long row over Northern Ireland Protocol
- A source close to European Commission president said: ‘it is indeed a big step’
Hopes are rising for a Brexit breakthrough today with claims the UK and EU could enter the negotiating ‘tunnel’ within days.
There is speculation that Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and Maros Sefcovic could trigger the intense final phase – when both sides work together secretly to thrash out a joint text.
The optimism comes after Brussels and London agreed terms for accessing data detailing the flow of goods from mainland Britain to Northern Ireland.
The deal was hailed as a ‘new basis’ for resolving the long running row over the province.
Mr Cleverly and Mr Sefcovic could announce the next step as early as next week when they hold another round of talks next week – although No10 stressed that there are still ‘significant issues’ to be resolved.
Rishi Sunak could struggle to win approval from hardline Tories and the DUP if he makes too many concessions.
A source close to European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said of the information-sharing deal: ‘It is indeed a big step, and it could be a door-opener for more.’
There has been a surge of optimism over the Northern Ireland protocol followed talks in London between James Cleverly (right), commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic (left) and Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris
Mr Cleverly tweeted to say the agreement on data sharing was a ‘positive step’
The deal followed talks in London between Mr Cleverly, Commission vice-president Mr Sefcovic and Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris.
They said afterwards that the agreement on data sharing was ‘a critical prerequisite to building trust and providing assurance, and provided a new basis for EU-UK discussions’.
Their joint statement said that London and Brussels would now ‘work rapidly to scope the potential for solutions in different areas on the basis of this renewed understanding’.
Downing Street said the agreement was an ‘important step forward’ and ‘a foundation for building further trust’.
But the Prime Minister’s spokesman said: ‘There are still significant issues at the heart of the protocol that need addressing.’
Data sharing could allow the EU to drop the need for checks on goods not destined to enter the EU’s single market via the Irish Republic.
European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic and the Foreign Secretary said the agreement on data sharing was ‘a critical prerequisite to building trust and providing assurance, and provided a new basis for EU-UK discussions’
Last month Simon Coveney, former Irish foreign minister, said: ‘If we’re going to get a deal here, there has to be real-time sharing of data and that has to happen in a way that the UK are comfortable with and in a way that the EU can live with too.’
The agreement will fuel hopes that the two sides might be closing in on a deal to resolve the problems over the Northern Ireland Protocol, which have seen the DUP boycott a power-sharing government for months.
EU trade checks are blamed for driving a wedge between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
Last week Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar conceded that the trade rules were ‘too strict’ and that ‘mistakes were made’ in the design of the Protocol.
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