Von der Leyen’s Oireachtas address to be closely watched for signs of optimism on NI protocol dispute

Inside Politics: EU taking steps to beef up enforcement powers if negotiations with Sunak’s government go sour

The arrival of new British prime minister Rishi Sunak in Number 10 brought a renewed hope of progress to resolve the Northern Ireland protocol Brexit row.

The Government certainly believes it is an opportunity for a reset in relations between Dublin and London at the very least.

But the efforts to come to an agreement on the protocol are between the European Union and the British government.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen will address the Houses of the Oireachtas today and her speech will be closely watched for any sense of optimism on the prospects of progress in ending the Brexit dispute.


However, as our Europe Correspondent Naomi O’Leary reports in today’s lead the EU is also preparing to strengthen its Brexit deal enforcement capabilities with retaliatory tariffs if things go sour.

She outlines how new legislation will empower the EU to revoke free trade arrangements with Britain and impose restrictions on investment or other activities if London breaches its side of deals signed during the Brexit process, including the Northern Ireland protocol.

The European Commission’s Brexit lead, Maroš Šefčovič, said the new powers would “allow us, if needed to enforce our agreements with the UK”, describing it as “continued unity… in action”.

Negotiators representing the European Parliament, European Commission and member states agreed on the text of the legislation to increase the EU’s enforcement powers on Wednesday evening, paving the way for the measures to come into force early next year.

The EU was prompted to beef up its enforcement options by London’s move to introduce the Internal Market Bill in 2020, which would have given the British government the power to unilaterally disapply parts of the protocol, and then the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill this year which would similarly allow ministers to override post-Brexit arrangements for the North.

The increased powers are designed as a way to force London to uphold its side of the agreement, particularly if the British government refuses to engage in the ordinary dispute-resolution mechanisms set out in the signed deals.

There have been signs that Britain wants a closer relationship with the EU as its economy tanks.

The Sunday Times reported two weeks ago that senior British government figures wanted a Swiss-style arrangement for trade only for this notion to be rapidly shot down by Number 10 the following day.

The European Union – and Government Buildings here – are very much hoping for a better relationship with the UK under Sunak.

But O’Leary’s story today shows that Brussels is preparing should things go the other way as well.

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Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien and Minister for Higher Education Simon Harris take Parliamentary Questions in the Dáil from 8.54am and 10.30am respectively.

Leaders’ Questions featuring Sinn Féin, the Social Democrats, People Before Profit-Solidarity and the Regional Group of Independents is at noon.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen addresses both Houses of the Oireachtas at 2pm.

Government business in the afternoon includes legislation to bring in maternity leave for county and city councillors.

Topical issues is at 8pm.

Department of Social Protection chiefs are before the Public Accounts Committee at 9.30am.

The full Dáil, Seanad and Committee schedule can be found here, here and here.

For those tuning in to the action in Qatar it’s Croatia v Belgium and Canada v Morocco at 3pm. The evening games are Spain v Japan and Costa Rica v Germany at 7pm.