Putin's war pushes 'reset' on Northern Ireland Protocol talks

Senior ministers Chris Heaton-Harris, Simon Coveney, Helen McEntee and Steve Baker meet ahead of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference - Simon Dawson /No 10 Downing Street
Senior ministers Chris Heaton-Harris, Simon Coveney, Helen McEntee and Steve Baker meet ahead of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference - Simon Dawson /No 10 Downing Street

Britain will not fixate on “red lines” in new Northern Ireland Protocol talks, a minister has said, as he signalled that Liz Truss is ready to compromise to get a deal with the EU.

Steve Baker, the Northern Ireland minister, said the energy crisis sparked by the war in Ukraine meant the UK had to take “big, bold steps” to repair ties with Europe.

The hard Brexiteer, a former chairman of the European Research Group (ERG), said it was time to stop talking about “the things which divide us” and instead “focus on what’s in the public’s best interests”.

Simon Coveney, the Irish foreign minister, said that Dublin wants to secure a “nil-all draw” from negotiations and that the thawing of relations isn’t a “phoney friendship”.

Simon Coveney and Helen McEntee, Ireland’s Minister for Justice, meet Chris Heaton-Harris and Steve Baker ahead of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference - Simon Dawson/No 10 Downing Street
Simon Coveney and Helen McEntee, Ireland’s Minister for Justice, meet Chris Heaton-Harris and Steve Baker ahead of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference - Simon Dawson/No 10 Downing Street

The Telegraph understands that the UK could put its demands on the European Court of Justice on the backburner to focus on eliminating checks and paperwork.

London and Dublin exchanged unusually warm words on Friday when senior ministers met in Westminster for the annual British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference.

At a press conference afterwards, Mr Baker said the war in Ukraine sparked a realisation that UK-EU relations, which have been scarred by the Protocol row, need mending.

“We’re going to some considerable lengths to create an atmosphere of friendship and willingness to make progress, recognising one another's legitimate interests,” he said.

“What’s changed? Everyone can see this is an incredibly serious moment for both of our countries, an incredibly serious moment for the European Union, all of Europe.

“The whole dynamic of politics in Europe has been radically transformed by the war in Ukraine, the energy crisis and other issues.

“At such a time, we need transformation in our relationships. We are trying to rise to the burden of responsibility that is on our shoulders.”

He added: "We don't really want to be discussing red lines. We know what our red lines are. You need to get into a negotiation and solve this problem."

Simon Coveney, with Chris Heaton-Harris, insisted the new push for a deal on the Protocol had ‘come from London’ - Jonathan Brady/PA
Simon Coveney, with Chris Heaton-Harris, insisted the new push for a deal on the Protocol had ‘come from London’ - Jonathan Brady/PA

Chris Heaton-Harris, the Northern Ireland Secretary, said: “We are all suffering from the energy shock that has been brought about by Putin’s illegal war on Ukraine.

“We all want to work together to make sure that Ukraine comes out of this battle victorious. There are very, very big things that are uniting us at this moment in time.”

Mr Coveney insisted the new push for a deal on the Protocol had “come from London”, but signalled that Dublin and Brussels are ready to meet it with fresh movement of their own.

He said newly relaunched talks between Britain and the EU this week had gone “reasonably well” and that politicians may "surprise people" by getting a deal in weeks.

"The conversations we're having with the British Government certainly suggest to me that we are in a different space now, one we haven't been in for quite some time,” he said.

UK sources privately cautioned against suggestions the sides are close to a deal, but said that Vladimir Putin’s invasion had driven a “reset” in the mood music.

Anglo-Irish relations at their highest point

“There's a general consensus that if you’re trying to link arms and tackle Russia, which has literally driven tanks into another country on European soil, it doesn’t look great for everybody if we can’t sort this out,” an insider said.

An EU source said that Anglo-Irish relations are at their highest point since Liz Truss, then the foreign secretary, took control of the Brexit negotiations in December 2021

“It is a bit too early to tell on substance but the mood music is much better now,” they added.

Both sides hope to secure significant progress in the talks before an Oct 28 deadline to get the Stormont Assembly up and running again.

If the Northern Ireland executive is not reformed by that date, the UK Government will be legally obliged to call another election.

The DUP has refused to reenter a power-sharing agreement with Sinn Fein until the Protocol is overhauled to scrap checks between Great Britain and the province.

Mr Baker insisted that reaching an agreement was about “all parties” and “the whole of the Unionist community”.