Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said the original Northern Ireland Protocol agreement on post-Brexit trading between Britain and the European Union was “a little too strict”, as both sides seek to resume negotiations to resolve a deadlock around its implementation.
Mr Varadkar said he believed there was an opportunity over the coming weeks for the British government and the EU to reach an agreement.
“That would be very beneficial for Ireland, for Northern Ireland, because it allows us to get the [Northern Ireland] Executive up and running and could be helpful for Britain as well in economic terms,” he said.
“One thing that I would concede is that perhaps the protocol as it was originally designed was a little too strict,” the Fine Gael leader said.
“The protocol is not being fully implemented and yet it is still working. I think that demonstrates that there is some room for further flexibility, for changes that hopefully will make it acceptable to all sides,” he said.
“I think there is a window of opportunity now over the next couple of weeks to see if we can come to an agreement on the protocol,” he said.
“I think we should not forget that the protocol is working, it was designed to prevent a hard border between North and South, and there is no hard border between North and South,” he said.
It had also succeeded in protecting the integrity of the EU single market, and led to the Northern Ireland economy “outperforming” other parts of the UK, he said.
Speaking on Thursday after an event in University College Dublin, Mr Varadkar said he would not comment on the political instability in Britain since Liz Truss became prime minister.
“Liz Truss is the prime minister and the British government is the British government. The European Union, including Ireland, will negotiate with them and try to come to an agreement if we can. We won’t concern ourselves about any individual country’s domestic politics,” he said.
“What we have agreed is that while the process is underway that we would limit, or refrain, from any public comment on it,” he said.
A recent apology from the British minister of state for Northern Ireland Steve Baker for previously failing to understand the Irish Government’s concerns during Brexit negotiations, were “very welcome comments,” Mr Varadkar said.
Earlier the Minister for Enterprise was addressing an industrial relations conference in UCD.
Mr Varadkar said he intended to sign regulations to bring in a law that would prevent employers from using tips to “make up” service staff wages into force by the start of December.
Under the new law employers would be prohibited from adding mandatory service charges to bills, unless that money went directly to staff, he told the conference.
Mr Varadkar said striking the balance on proposed legislation to give workers the right to request to work remotely “has proven difficult”.
“I’m happy to listen to all options with regard to the proposed legislation, and I’m open to making changes to make it work. I still hope to publish the Bill before the end of the year,” he said.