Foreign Secretary met with businesspeople here for ‘constructive’ talks over the impasses
Businesspeople here have indicated that they are hopeful a deal can be done to resolve the impasse over the NI Protocol after a “constructive” meeting with UK Brexit negotiator Liz Truss.
It’s understood Ms Truss, who is also Foreign Secretary, will make an announcement on Friday related to the protocol after talks with European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic at her Chevening residence.
Introduced a year ago, the protocol ushered in customs procedures, as well as checks known as sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) measures on certain goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain following Brexit.
By keeping Northern Ireland in the EU single market for goods, the protocol has given Northern Ireland firm dual market access to both the EU and British market.
The Foreign Office would not give any details of any potential announcement from Ms Truss.
One possibility is that she will accept the proposals from the EU last month to assist the free flow of medicines from Great Britain into Northern Ireland, which could improve the prospects of a more far-reaching deal.
Aodhan Connolly, director of the NI Retail Consortium, said a meeting between businesspeople and Ms Truss on Tuesday was “short but constructive”. He added that “she definitely thinks that there is a deal to be done”.
He said: “The Northern Ireland business community is under no illusions about the challenges that lie ahead in the next couple of months.
"We realise that this is perhaps our last and best chance at reaching an agreement between the EU and UK that removes enough friction from Great Britain to Northern Ireland to allow our businesses to be competitive and keep choice and affordability for NI households.
"Good progress was made before the holidays, especially in medicines, and that is the same collegiate working that we need to see on areas such as customs and SPS checks.”
Glyn Roberts, chief executive of Retail NI, said the meeting was “very useful”, adding: "We outlined a number of difficulties many of our members are experiencing when trading with GB- based suppliers and wholesalers.
“Business needs to be a partner in finding a broader agreement which keeps the benefits of the NI Protocol but fixes the problem of GB-NI trade.”
Stephen Kelly, chief executive of Manufacturing NI, said the delegation had highlighted the challenges of the protocol as well as its benefits.
"We reiterated our call for stability, certainty, simplicity and affordability by building on the protocol allowing us to seize more of the opportunities which have already being grasped by many firms,” he said.
“The Foreign Secretary said she was keen to make progress quickly and committed to engage with business in the time ahead.”
Ireland’s EU financial services commissioner Mairead McGuinness has said the UK and Brussels must find a solution to the row over the protocol before the Assembly elections later this year.
She said she hopes the appointment of Ms Truss to the role of Brexit negotiator will bring some “pragmatism to the situation”.
Ms Truss has already said she will not sign up to any arrangement that involves checks on goods moving within the UK.
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis has said he will not set "arbitrary time frames" on finding resolutions to problems with the protocol.
On Monday, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said, following a meeting with Ms Truss, that London needs to provide a timetable for when changes will be made to the protocol.
He has indicated a "pause" on the DUP threat to collapse the power-sharing institutions at Stormont over the protocol.
However, speaking during a visit to Co Down, Mr Lewis said: "I'm not setting arbitrary time frames. As I say, myself and the Foreign Secretary (Liz Truss) will be meeting with Maros Sefcovic on Thursday this week; there's a series then of talks that will hopefully follow that building on the work we've already done.
"Our position hasn't changed — we need to resolve this in a way that works for the people of Northern Ireland and we want to do that as quickly as possible. We want to do that in a way that is sustainable and can deliver for people."