UK legislation on the Northern Ireland protocol is “best ignored for now”, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said ahead of his meeting this evening with British foreign secretary James Cleverly.
The Minister, who will speak to EU vice president Maros Šefčovič ahead of the talks in London, said “it would be helpful if the legislation was formally frozen” but he was not sure that was being asked “because we are trying to make progress without creating barriers or raising things we cannot agree on”.
The legislation is back for a second reading in the House of Lords next Tuesday. “We know that and are not particularly happy about it but it is best ignored for now.
“It is not moving quickly and there is no chance that it will be passed by the end of the year.”
Speaking in the Dail he said “let’s park that to one side”. He told TDs that “the official position is very clear; should that legislation become law, it would create huge problems as regards the relationship, trust and legal challenges.”
But there was an opportunity and “we should use it and not be distracted by where the legislation is”, he said, as technical talks get underway between the EU and UK at official level.
Answering questions about Brexit and a thawing in relations between Ireland, Britain and the EU, the Minister said “there is a genuine effort on the British side to try to rebuild and reconstruct relationships with Ireland, which is good.
“That is clearly under instruction from the prime minister’s office because it is happening across the board.”
But he told Sinn Féin foreign affairs spokesman John Brady that “we now need to see those sentiments turned into constructive engagement between the UK and the European Union. We need political will focused on finding jointly agreed solutions to issues of genuine concern to people and business in Northern Ireland.”
Mr Coveney said his discussion with Mr Cleverly “will focus on timelines and subjects where we think it is possible to make progress sooner rather than later”.
He believed they could make significant progress on some of the issues “that really matter to people in Northern Ireland, including the unionist and business communities”.
He also said he was focused “on the formation of an Executive in Northern Ireland before the October 28th deadline.
“I have been clear with everyone that discussions on the protocol should proceed in parallel to the process of Executive formation.”
Taoiseach Micheál Martin said earlier in the week that British prime minister Liz Truss was “adamant” that elections could be called if the Northern Ireland Executive did not resume by the end of October.