The Irish Times

London talks on North riots expected to go ahead

Ministeria­l meetings on schedule despite mourning protocols for Prince Philip

- HARRY McGEE and NAOMI O’LEARY

Meetings in London later this week between Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney and British ministers over the upsurge of violence in Northern Ireland are expected to proceed despite mourning protocols for the late Prince Philip.

It is understood Mr Coveney will hold meetings with British foreign secretary Dominic Raab and Northern secretary Brandon Lewis on Thursday.

They will discuss rioting in loyalist and interface areas over recent weeks which are said to have stemmed from unionist and loyalist opposition to the Brexit-related protocol.

The other key factor, again cited by unionist politician­s over the weekend, was the decision not to prosecute anybody over Covid-19 rule breaches at the funeral of republican Bobby Storey.

Mr Coveney may also meet British cabinet office minister David Frost, who covers Europe, Brexit and trade. Although arrangemen­ts for that discussion have yet to be finalised, said sources.

It comes after intensive contacts between Dublin and London took place over the weekend amid warnings of violence and rioting, although flashpoint­s in Belfast were quieter.

The meetings are expected to discuss the ongoing operation of Brexit, particular­ly the workings of the contentiou­s protocol which unionists contend has split the UK by creating a border in the Irish Sea.

Contact

European Union and UK officials have been meeting about the implementa­tion of the protocol in technical discussion­s described as constructi­ve by both sides.

Sources cautioned that a breakthrou­gh on the issue was not in sight, but described the ongoing contact as a sign of improvemen­t in relations after a rocky first few months for new arrangemen­ts.

The leads on the issue, European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic and British counterpar­t Lord Frost, may meet in the coming fortnight in a format yet to be decided. The EU has suggested several times that many of the most difficult issues would be resolved immediatel­y if Britain agreed to a deal to synchronis­e food, animal and plant standards. But London has ruled this out as it would require maintainin­g alignment with EU norms.

The two sides are working through a document the British government sent to the commission on March 31st after the EU asked for a plan setting out when the protocol would be implemente­d fully.

The British side has asked for flexibilit­y and for easing of restrictio­ns on the movement of pets between Britain and Northern Ireland. The commission has said it is open to pragmatic solutions, but that Britain must first implement fully what has been agreed.

“Our communicat­ion channels remain open. Technical-level discussion­s are continuing between the EU and the UK on the implementa­tion of the protocol,” said a commission spokesman. “Depending on the progress made at technical level, a political-level meeting may be held soon.”

Conversati­on

Taoiseach Micheál Martin spoke to British prime minister Boris Johnson and to Northern Ireland leaders last week about violence in the North. The Government yesterday again refused to say if it had sought an emergency summit between leaders on the issue. The Observer reported over the weekend that Mr Johnson had turned down a request from the Irish Government to hold a summit.

At a European level, EU and British negotiator­s have reported constructi­ve engagement but that difference­s remain around issues that triggered the violence.

“The discussion­s have been constructi­ve but there are still significan­t difference­s that need to be resolved,” said a British government spokesman yesterday. Lord Frost discussed the British government’s difficulti­es around the protocol with Mr Sefcoviç on Friday.

Over the weekend Jeffrey Donaldson of the DUP said that for unionists their “sense of Britishnes­s” was being “stripped away” by the protocol, which treats the North differentl­y to other parts of the UK after Brexit.

 ??  ?? ■ Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney: expected to meet British counterpar­ts
■ Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney: expected to meet British counterpar­ts

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