Simon Coveney, Ireland’s foreign secretary, is flying to London for talks with his British counterpart James Cleverly amid hopes of a framework agreement to end the bitter row over Northern Ireland’s Brexit deals within weeks.
Official-level talks will begin on Thursday afternoon via video link ahead of a working lunch between the two ministers.
“Both sides have agreed to negotiate this week for the first time since mid-February,” Coveney told reporters in Dublin. “Mood music has changed fundamentally. We welcome that and will not only work to rebuild trust, but also work on solutions in a practical way,” he added.
In a second round of meetings on Friday, Coveney will meet Northern Ireland Minister Chris Heaton-Harris and Northern Ireland Minister Steve Baker, who stunned many this week when he apologized to Ireland and the EU for the behavior of the Brexit camp he led during of Theresa May’s Prime Ministership.
In a clear sign of a thaw in EU-UK relations, Liz Truss will simultaneously attend the inaugural session of the European Political Community, a new body being promoted by French President Emmanuel Macron to connect EU member states with other European countries to join countries that are not in the bloc. She is expected to meet both Macron and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen.
The talks come as Baker – a former leader of the European Research Group (ERG), made up of Eurosceptic Tory MPs – slammed David Frost in a Twitter spat about Britain’s behaviour. Referring to a request from Lord Frost and a Northern Ireland journalist to stick to the UK red lines, Baker tweeted: “None of you seem to have heeded my comments on determination. But the EU and the Irish have. And red lines are about not discussing them publicly. to have none.”
Coveney and Cleverly will have a working lunch in London as part of a bilateral meeting that will look at Ukraine, the UN Security Council and Brexit. They have already spoken twice on the phone and met at a Security Council meeting in New York last month, but this is the first full bilateral discussion, indicating the priority status of the Northern Ireland issue.
Sources say Truss has made it clear she “wants a deal” and is keen to get the Northern Ireland issue off her mailbox so she can tackle the significant challenges she faces with the UK economy, Ukraine and the UK facing the cost of living crisis.
Former Secretary of Northern Ireland Julian Smith described the resumption of talks as “good news”. He said the government must now “reach an agreement that broadly meets the needs of all sides in NI,” but the EU must also “lean in to address many of the issues raised by the union movement.”
Some are hoping a framework agreement could be in place by October 28, the deadline for the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to return to power-sharing in the Stormont Assembly.
Earlier this week, Edwin Poots, who briefly chaired the DUP last year, warned that the political impasse in Northern Ireland could mean a “funeral” for the very peace deal that established power-sharing.
Many believe an agreement could be reached to end physical checks on goods moving from the UK to Northern Ireland, but the role of the European Court of Justice will be difficult as it is a red line for both sides.
The DUP holds its annual conference on Friday, which is expected to air disagreements over the latest developments.