UK and EU welcome Northern Ireland protocol breakthrough

The European Commission had demanded real-time access to trade flow data from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. Sources said it was now satisfied with the quality of access after disagreements over whether the information was real-time or provided by companies or the government.

Technical talks between officials about the database had continued since UK-EU relations improved following Boris Johnson’s resignation last year.

Micheál Martin, Ireland’s foreign minister and former prime minister, welcomed the news of the breakthrough. He will travel to Brussels on Tuesday for talks with the committee.

Any final deal will also need the backing of the DUP, who boycotted Stormont’s reinstatement after the May election over its opposition to the protocol, which they fear is driving a wedge between them and the rest of the UK.

“This is no time for sticking plasters”

A DUP spokesman said: “The protocol caused the collapse of the NI leadership, it must be replaced by arrangements that restore our place in the UK. This is not a time to stick Band-Aids. It is time for serious negotiations that address the fundamental problem.”

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP leader, added: “I am committed to Stormont’s recovery, but such a recovery can only be sustainable if it is built on solid foundations supported by trade unionists and nationalists.”

Heaton-Harris will meet Northern Ireland’s main political parties on Wednesday. He has said he will hold new parliamentary elections on January 19 unless power-sharing is restored. Leo Varadkar, the Irish Prime Minister, is also expected in Belfast before next week’s deadline.

However, the database breach is expected to extend the deadline to April 13, three days after Mr Biden’s scheduled visit for the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

Before the database broke, RTE reported that officials were making contingency plans in case the April deadline was missed.

A political agreement on the broad outline of a deal could be announced to buy time for more negotiations, the Irish broadcaster reported.

David Lammy, Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, described progress in resolving the Protocol row as “pathetic” and said the data deal was “long overdue”.

“Rishi Sunak is failing to make real progress in the wider negotiations because he is too weak to take on the ERG in his party,” he said.

“With hard work and compromise on all sides, a deal is achievable to end this damaging self-inflicted stalemate.”

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