UK expresses preference for negotiated solution over Northern Ireland Protocol
British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said Thursday (Nov 10) that the UK strongly prefers a negotiated solution with the European Union over the thorny Northern Ireland Protocol.
Meeting with Irish Taoiseach (prime minister) Micheal Martin in Blackpool at the 38th British-Irish Council Summit, Sunak underlined “his commitment to working closely on matters of shared interest, and to deepen UK-Irish ties, particularly in the face of Russian aggression in Ukraine and the associated energy crisis.”
He also set out “the UK government’s decision to introduce legislation to provide a short extension to the period for Executive formation and reiterated his firm commitment to upholding the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement in all its dimensions.”
Sunak “stressed that the UK’s strong preference is for a negotiated solution with the EU” on the Northern Ireland Protocol.
“He reiterated that any deal must solve the full range of issues caused by the protocol but hoped for flexibility and pragmatism.”
The deadline to form a new devolved government in Northern Ireland has been extended until Jan. 8, Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris announced Wednesday.
He added in a statement that the new deadline could be extended for another six weeks if no new government can be formed by then.
The nationalist and unionist parties, Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), failed to reach an agreement on forming a new devolved government within six months after the May 5 election.
The DUP has blocked efforts to form a new executive due to their ongoing stance on the Northern Ireland Protocol – an addendum to the UK’s EU Withdrawal Agreement which keeps Northern Ireland aligned with EU trade rules to avoid a hard border with Ireland.
On Oct. 28, the Northern Ireland Assembly held a last-minute sitting to see if a deal could be struck between Sinn Fein and the DUP to form the new devolved government six months after the election, but it was unsuccessful.
Sinn Fein secured a historic victory in May, winning a majority of 27 seats in Stormont, making it the first nationalist party to take control of the assembly in its century of existence.
According to the Northern Ireland-specific law and the latest election results, a power-sharing devolved government can only be formed under an agreement between Sinn Fein and the DUP.
Sinn Fein nominated the party’s Vice President Michelle O’Neill as the new first minister, but the DUP repeatedly refused to nominate a deputy and said it would not change its stance unless the Northern Ireland Protocol is scrapped.