Northern Ireland leaders being shut out of Brexit talks, says Labour | Brexit

The Labour party has called on the government and the EU to lift the “veil of secrecy” over the talks about new Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland, urging them to give local political leaders a seat at the negotiations table.

As the talks inch towards the deadline the UK government has set for making a decision to trigger article 16 and suspend parts of the protocol, the shadow Northern Ireland secretary, Louise Haigh, said it was unsustainable for leaders, businesses and civic society to be “shut out” on huge decisions being taken about their future.

She made her remarks as the taoiseach, Micheál Martin, revealed that the US president, Joe Biden, had pulled him aside after a formal Cop26 conference in Glasgow to tell him he was watching the Northern Ireland Brexit talks closely.

“He called me aside after the meeting to, again, make it very clear to me that the United States takes the Good Friday agreement very seriously. To use his own words, ‘it matters greatly to me and to the United States’, and he said he has made this clear to the UK government.”

Speaking at the start of October, the Brexit minister, David Frost, said the conflict over the protocol needed to be settled within three weeks, but last week he said significant gaps remained between the two sides, particularly on state aid and the role of the European court of justice.

Whitehall sources suggest the earliest a decision on triggering article 16 could be made is the third week in November, after Cop26.

Lord Frost and the European Commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič are due to meet on Friday to assess progress in talks.

Earlier this week it emerged that Frost’s drive to get the existing Northern Ireland protocol scrapped was as much rooted in opposition to the deal Theresa May struck in December 2017 as it was in delivering a new agreement to the unionist community that oppose the protocol.

Writing in a foreword to a new paper for the Policy Exchange thinktank, Frost said the EU-UK joint report, which set the terms for the article 50 process of divorce from the EU, was a result of the UK failing to make “the necessary mental shift from being a member of the EU to negotiating exit from the EU”.

Haigh urged negotiators not to stoke tension over the protocol, which has prompted a resurgence in identity politics in Northern Ireland, and to bring local leaders in from the sidelines.

The Northern Ireland secretary, Brandon Lewis, admitted in the House of Commons last week that democratically elected leaders in Northern had still not been privy to the UK’s legal text of the negotiating position.

“It is simply unsustainable for leaders, businesses and civic society to be shut out on huge decisions being made about their future,” said Haigh. “Businesses and communities want a deal and with rising tension, the last thing Northern Ireland needs is more poisonous instability.”

“If the government are really acting in Northern Ireland’s interests, rather than their own, then they should draw back the veil of secrecy, move the talks to Belfast, and give Northern Ireland a seat at the table,” she added.

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