Hopes raised on deal to end stand-off over NI EU Protocol

Kate Middleton confronted by woman in Northern Ireland

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Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris said progress is being made about changing the divisive trade Protocol, following months of stalemate.

It marks the second diplomatic coup for Liz Truss in the space of 24 hours, after she struck a deal with France to stop thousands of illegal Channel crossings.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said the “new-look British Government” had made “a positive effort to recalibrate where we are”.

A “new air of positivity has created a flicker of optimism”, Mr Coveney added.

The Protocol is part of the Brexit deal that keeps Northern Ireland aligned with the EU’s single market to continue free trade across the Irish land border. Many unionists oppose the agreement.

The Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which would overwrite parts of the accord to be more to the UK’s liking, is currently working its way through Parliament.

But Mr Heaton-Harris said he hoped the Bill would become a “redundant piece of legislation” if a deal was reached.

He made his assessment yesterday, following a meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference in London.

Afterwards, Mr Coveney said: “We’re all working in good spirit, with good co-operation to deliver on the changes that are required for the Protocol to be fixed or the issues within [it] to be fixed.”

He said his government was looking for a “nil-all draw” in negotiations, “where everybody can walk away feeling that they haven’t won or lost, but they can live with the outcome”.

However, Mr Heaton-Harris warned he will call another Northern Ireland Assembly election if power-sharing is not restored within weeks.

Power-sharing in Northern Ireland collapsed after the Democratic Unionist Party refused to serve in the Stormont Executive due to their concerns about the Protocol.

Another assembly election must be held if the executive is not restored by October 28. Mr Coveney added: “We want to avoid an election if we can and in the context of not having solved some of the outstanding questions around the Protocol, an election means issues like that become totem issues again.”

He said an election was more like to “divide” rather than unite people on the topic.

Ms Truss and the French President Emmanuel Macron announced they would tackle the migration crisis together after a Thursday meeting in the Czech Republic.

More than 33,000 people have made the perilous Channel crossing in small boats so far this year.

The two countries will now hold a summit, dubbed “La Co-operation” by Downing Street, in France next year, at which the crisis will be tackled head-on.

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