Saturday, 2 Dec 2023

King told of ‘progress’ in Brexit talks as UK hopeful of breakthrough

King Charles III delivers speech at Hillsborough Castle

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There was hope of a breakthrough in a Brexit row over customs checks last night after King Charles was told by politicians they were optimistic matters would “progress”. The new monarch spoke to the leader of the DUP about the Northern Ireland Protocol while on a visit to the province yesterday.

He visited Hillsborough Castle for a reception paying tribute to Queen Elizabeth II.

Speaking to Sir Jeffrey Donaldson about the European Union he asked about the DUP’s opposition to the Protocol.

The party has refused to enter the devolved power-sharing executive with Sinn Fein until its concerns over the international agreement are resolved.

Unionists say customs checks imposed on goods crossing the Irish Sea from Britain are undermining Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom.

Speaking to King Charles yesterday, Sir Jeffrey said there are positive sounds coming from the EU side and that he was hopeful matters would “progress”.

His comments were made after European Commission vice president Faros Sefcovic appear to cave to Britain’s demands earlier this week.

The eurocrat suggested the number of checks taking place on goods crossing from Britain to Northern Ireland could be reduced to just a few lorries a day.

Mr Sefcovic said under his proposals the trade border that has effectively been imposed down the Irish Sea as a result of the Northern Ireland Protocol would be “invisible”.

Physical checks would only be made when there was reasonable suspicion of illegal trade smuggling, illegal drugs, dangerous toys or poisoned food, he vowed.

“If the data are downloaded into the system, when the goods are put on the ferry from Britain… I believe that we can remotely process them while sailing to Northern Ireland,” Mr Sefcovic told the Financial Times.

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“It could be resolved very, very quickly if we get the input from our UK counterparts.”

The appointment of Liz Truss as Prime Minister last week is believed to have put renewed hope of both sides finding a compromise on the Protocol.

Mr Sefcovic’s offer falls short of the UK’s demand for the European Court of Justice to be removed as the ultimate arbitrator of the Northern Ireland Protocol, but senior Tories believe there is now room for a deal.

Former Brexit Secretary David Davis described the remarks by Mr Sefcovic as “a welcome step forward” and “a very, very good sign”.

He told “Getting rid of the checks is the biggest single thing in terms of its impact on the ordinary citizen in Northern Ireland and also the biggest impact on the economy.”

Former Cabinet minister David Jones said the offer was “superficially a sign of goodwill”, before demanding action on the European Court of Justice.

“That has to go, and for that purpose the EU must change its mandate to Sefcovic,” he said.

Sir John Redwood added: “There has to be independent arbitration. We can’t have disputes decided by the courts of the EU.”

Formal talks between the UK Government and EU on the Protocol will not take place until after the Queen’s funeral next Monday.

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