The Irish Times view on the Brexit protocol talks: still seeking a way forward

Talks on the Northern Ireland protocol are resuming – it is time to make progress

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss who now heads the UK side in the talks. Aaron Chown/PA Wire

Here we go again. Like a never-ending soap opera, the talks on the Northern Ireland protocol go on and on, with familiar story-lines, the occasional change in cast and the odd bit of drama. Hopes that British foreign secretary Liz Truss, now leading negotiations on the UK side, would take a different approach were put in question by a weekend article in which she said the UK "remained ready" to trigger article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol.

However, the first real indications of where Boris Johnson's government will go next will come in talks between Truss and European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic tonight. Truss has promised new proposals but has again called for the EU to compromise. A deal is clearly possible, but the UK must compromise too – and accept what it has signed up to.

Some progress has been made in the talks; the EU has offered significant measures to ease the burden of checks on goods entering Northern Ireland, while the UK is no longer presenting the role of the European Court of Justice in arbitrating disputes as a red line. But Truss repeated that she could not accept trade checks between two parts of the UK – and these are central to the protocol.

The Irish Government has indicated it wants to see a deal done by the end of February. If the talks go beyond that, they will be running close to the North's Assembly elections in May. Already DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson has threatened to collapse Stormont , if sufficient progress is not made.


There are political and economic dangers here for the North and the Republic. Even if the UK does not trigger article 16, there is the risk of the talks dragging on, the issue dominating the Assembly elections and doubts about the UK’s commitment to ever implement the necessary checks.

The EU has already shown significant flexibility and may go a bit further. But a solution will also require more movement from the UK and an acceptance by it of some level of checks on trade between Britain to Northern Ireland, to which it has, after all, agreed. For now, this looks unlikely but, given flexibility, a deal can be done.