It was not the Taoiseach’s intention to suggest that the text of the Northern Ireland protocol could be renegotiated, but rather that there was scope for more flexibility in its implementation, Leo Varadkar’s spokesman has said.
Speaking to political correspondents at Government Buildings after the first Cabinet meeting of the year, the spokesman said Mr Varadkar’s comments about the protocol perhaps being “too strict” were not a signal that the text of the agreement could be rewritten.
The spokesman said it was not the Taoiseach’s “intention” to signal that changing the text of the protocol was now up for discussion between the EU and the UK. Rather, he added, Mr Varadkar was seeking to suggest that the “issue of flexibility is an important one”.
Mr Varadkar’s comments were widely reported by the UK and Irish media earlier this week.
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He said: “One thing I have said in the past is that, when we designed the protocol, when it was originally negotiated, perhaps it was a little bit too strict.”
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The comments led to speculation that a change to the text of the protocol could be on the table, but the EU and Dublin have repeatedly ruled that out in the past and Mr Varadkar’s spokesman was keen to play down the suggestion that something had changed.
The EU has, however, indicated that it would be willing to agree to a less rigorous implementation of the protocol, which would see the vast majority of checks on goods entering Northern Ireland from Britain eliminated.
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The mood music between London and Brussels has improved in recent months and discussions on the protocol have recommenced. There are hopes that a deal on a more relaxed implementation of the post-Brexit arrangement could be reached early in the new year, though some sources were sceptical that it could be reached before the deadline to call fresh assembly elections on January 19th.
The spokesman confirmed Mr Varadkar had not yet spoken to British prime minister Rishi Sunak since he was re-elected Taoiseach on December 17th, but their offices had been in touch. He said Mr Varadkar hopes to visit Northern Ireland later this month.