Ireland is looking for a “nil-all draw” in negotiations between the UK and the EU, its foreign affairs minister has said, amid fresh hopes a compromise can be reached over the Northern Ireland protocol row.
At a news conference in London, Simon Coveney said: “What we’re after here is a nil-all draw, where everybody can walk away feeling that they haven’t won or lost, but they can live with the outcome.”
The comments hint an improvement in the mood in Brussels and Dublin, following a lengthy stalemate with the UK on the post-Brexit trading arrangements for the region.
Mr Coveney said renewed technical discussions between both sides had gone “reasonably well” and there was now a “genuine effort” by the UK to resolve the issues caused by Brexit.
He told reporters: “I think the conversations we’re having now 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, where there is a genuine effort… on actually how we can solve these problems together.”
He added: “Political leadership is about making things happen and sometimes surprising people, and I think that’s what we need to do over the next few weeks, to provide reassurance.”
The Northern Ireland protocol was agreed by the UK and the EU as part of the Withdrawal Agreement and sought to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland after Brexit.
But the arrangements have created trade barriers on goods being shipped from Great Britain to Northern Ireland and are vehemently opposed by many unionists in Northern Ireland.
As a solution, the UK government has laid out legislation to rip up larges swathes of the Brexit agreement, which critics say in is in breach of international law.
Relations between the EU and the UK had been soured over the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which was introduced into the Commons by Prime Minister Liz Truss when she was foreign secretary.
However, this week has seen a shift in the mood with both sides appearing more positive about the prospect of a deal.
Mr Coveney was in London on Friday to attend a meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, alongside Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris.
Mr Heaton-Harris said he was “very positive” that a solution can be found over the protocol.
He added: “I believe we’re all working in good spirit with good co-operation to deliver on the changes that are required for the protocol to be fixed or the issues within the protocol to be fixed. And we need to we need to show some progress on that.”
He defended the UK’s right to push ahead with the protocol bill, but said it would be a “redundant piece of legislation” if a deal was reached.
Talks have been given a new impetus following the election of Ms Truss as prime minister and a looming deadline in Northern Ireland, where the row has stopped a devolved administration from forming.
Mr Heaton-Harris repeated his intention to call an election if the DUP does not return to the table by the legal deadline of 28 October.
Current legislation says that if Stormont is not restored by then, Mr Heaton-Harris should call a new election.
A joint communique, issued after the meeting, committed both sides to “doing everything possible” to restore power-sharing.
While both said progress on the protocol could help re-establish the executive, Mr Heaton-Harris said it was “fool’s gold” to talk about timelines, and Mr Coveney said it was “completely unrealistic” for everything to be agreed in three weeks.
“The starting point here is to build a bit of trust,” the Irish foreign minister said. “Now we need to move to the next step, which is the difficult stuff.”