Mood music changes over Northern Irelands post-Brexit trade deal

Lord Frost calls for ‘major shift’ in NI protocol discussions

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A deal over post-Brexit trading arrangements for Northern Ireland may be signed within weeks. Officials are reportedly drawing up solutions to problems surrounding the Northern Ireland Protocol. Downing Street wants to strike a deal before October 28 when the UK Government has to call another Stormont election.

A senior source told The i: “We hope a deal will be signed well before then. We’re not going to put a timetable to it. There is a landing zone in sight.”

The mood between the UK, European Union and the Republic of Ireland is believed to have shifted at a British Irish Alliance meeting in Oxford in September.

The source said: “It all happened at the Oxford meeting. There was a major shift in the mood music.”

It comes as Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris reiterated he intends to call an election if powersharing institutions at Stormont are not restored by October 28.

The Stormont Executive collapsed earlier this year after DUP First Minister Paul Givan resigned in protest over the protocol, which created trade barriers on goods being shipped from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

Mr Heaton-Harris was speaking after a DUP minister warned the political impasse over the protocol could lead to the funeral of the Good Friday Agreement.

Edwin Poots told RTE his party would not return to Stormont until the issues were resolved.

He said: “There will not be an assembly and there will not be institutions of the Good Friday Agreement whilst we have the protocol – the two things are incompatible.”

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Pressure was mounting to get a deal over the line in recent months as Washington grew increasingly eager for a deal to be signed in time for the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

Mr Heaton-Harris said: “I want to be in that position where we are celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement on April 10.

“I am talking to the unionist community as much as I am talking to anyone else. I fully intend to keep everybody appraised of where we are at all the way through this process.

“We are going to do our best to negotiate a solution. You have seen what we want to achieve in the legislation in the House. If negotiations break down, we have got the legislation going through.”

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Mr Heaton-Harris insisted he believed a negotiated solution between the UK Government and the EU was possible.

He said: “I genuinely think if we get to a negotiated solution where I think the landing zone is, if that comes about, it will work for all communities in Northern Ireland.

“I am convinced it will have the support of the DUP. If we get the negotiated solution that we are after, it will carry the support of all communities.”

Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said there are weeks to find a negotiated settlement on the protocol if it is to be solved before a contentious bill on the trade issue between the European Union and UK becomes law.

The Government produced a Bill earlier this year which threatened to tear up entire sections of the deal it signed with the EU two years ago.

The stand-off over the protocol is by far the biggest of several issues straining relations between the EU and Britain. It could lead to a trade war if London presses ahead with the legislation which effectively tears up some of the rules.

Mr Cleverly told the Conservative Party conference: “If you’re the Commission and want to get a negotiated settlement coming into force, we know that we are talking about some weeks rather than many months.”

He also praised fellow Tory MP Steve Baker for apologising to the EU and Ireland for behaviour during the Brexit process.

Mr Cleverly told a fringe event at the conference: “I think it was very honourable to try and take some of the heat out of the conversation.

“What Steve is implicitly saying is, ‘Let’s look forward and not backwards’, and I think that is a very, very sensible thing to say.”

On negotiations with the EU over the protocol, Mr Cleverly said: “We’ve been very clear about the things we think are key to the integrity of the UK: Northern Ireland must always be treated as an integral part of our country.”

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