One of Germany’s top diplomats is “cautiously optimistic” about the prospect of a UK-EU deal on the post-Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol, after a thawing in relations.
Miguel Berger, Germany’s ambassador to Britain, said there is now an “openness to engage” from Downing Street and that UK-EU relations had improved since Boris Johnson was ousted.
Both sides agree that checks on goods going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland need to be reduced in the face of economic and political disruption.
Talks have been at a stalemate for more than one year, however the mood music from both camps is becoming increasingly positive.
Berger said there was a “landing zone for the Northern Ireland protocol’s implementation”.
“It is possible to find a solution; the difficult issue is more the political reaction of the DUP, the risk of an election in North Ireland, so there are many political issues which go together with it, but if we speak about the negotiation process, I would say that I am cautiously optimistic,” he told Sky News.
When asked if Rishi Sunak had helped thaw relations with Brussels, Berger said: “Yes, I would say that even Liz Truss made some steps towards Europe. She participated in Prague at the first meeting of the European Political Community and the first talks were already under Liz Truss was James Cleverly.
“I would say we see in general a different attitude.”
Northern Ireland still follows the EU’s customs union and single market rules, unlike the rest of the UK, meaning there needs to be checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea.
A portion of the unionist community are angry that the protocol effectively separates Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK in order to avoid a hard border with the Republic of Ireland.
This has seen the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) refuse to sit in Northern Ireland’s regional assembly, with its leaders calling for the protocol to be scrapped entirely.
The UK wants to completely rewrite the Brexit treaty, while the EU wants to tweak the way it is implemented.