EU awaits signal on protocol from Truss at Prague summit

Dublin and Brussels suspend judgment on sudden British outreach on Northern Ireland protocol

“Are they serious or not?”

That is the question being asked by politicians and officials in Dublin and Brussels as they ponder the recent sudden outreach by the British government on the Northern Ireland protocol.

There is hope on the EU side that a long period of what the bloc has seen as bad faith and inconsistency from the UK (it is seen, of course, differently form London) may be coming to an end, and there is a prospect of meaningful negotiations to achieve an agreement.

But there is also enduring mistrust. The current wait-and-see attitude, as reported in Tuesday’s Irish Times, is a function of that hope and mistrust. It’s up to the British, say sources in Dublin and Brussels, to show that they are serious about renewing relationships and doing business.


There will be an opportunity for prime minister Liz Truss to convince the EU that she is serious on Thursday, when she travels to a meeting of European leaders in Prague. The “European Political Community” gathering – where EU countries and those from non-EU European nations will meet – was conceived by French president Emmanuel Macron as a means of keeping the UK, and potential applicants for EU membership, in the conversation.

Baker apology

EU officials concerned with Brexit (vastly fewer nowadays as Brexit is pretty much done as far as most members states are concerned) and those in Dublin who perennially fret about it are waiting to see if Truss uses the meeting to signal that there is substance behind the Steve Baker apology to Ireland earlier this week and the resumption of talks.

There have been some positive signals. While senior officials in Dublin who spoke privately in recent days have voiced skepticism, sources with knowledge of conversations at the highest level say that Taoiseach Micheál Martin has been optimistic about a possible deal since his meeting with the new PM on the margins of the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II.

Other sources report some optimism coming from the office of European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, thought to be on the back of contacts with Truss.

As ever, British domestic politics seems likely to play a decisive role in what unfolds over the coming weeks. Some officials say that with Truss under enormous pressure following the debacle of the mini-budget, she may be inclined to seek a quick win and secure a deal with the EU.

Others caution that precisely because of her sudden – and self-inflicted – political weakness, she is unlikely to be able to ignore the objections of the ultra-Brexiteers who put her in Downing Street (or the DUP) and agree anything that involves a concession to the EU.

Northern Ireland, and broader Anglo-Irish relations, may once again be subject to ebbs and flows in the turmoil that has defined British politics since 2016.

So, no change, then.