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Ursula von der Leyen says EU's ruling body is 'exploring all flexibilities available' on protocol implementation

Ursula von der Leyen said the European Commission is 'exploring all flexibilities available' to ensure the protocol is implemented. Picture by European Commission/PA Wire

NATIONALISTS last night welcomed a commitment from the European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen that the EU's ruling body is "exploring all flexibilities available" to ensure the protocol is implemented.

In a letter to Stormont assembly speaker Alex Maskey, she signalled that the commission had already demonstrated a degree of latitude in relation to goods moving from Britain into the north.

However, Mrs von der Leyen reaffirmed the commission's desire to fully protect the integrity of the EU's Single Market and Customs Union.

Discussions between the EU and British government aimed at mitigating the impact of the protocol on east-west trade are due to continue next week.

The letter from Brussels was made public as the DUP petition urging the British government to trigger Article 16 of the protocol amassed the necessary100,000 signatures to be considered for a Westminster debate.

Part of the DUP's five-point plan aimed at undermining the Irish Sea border, the petition reached the required threshold in little over 24 hours,

Arlene Foster said it was "time for affirmative action to ensure that there is an unfettered flow of goods within the United Kingdom single market".

"This e-petition is also a demonstration to those protocol loyalists who believe it is written on tablets of stone, that they must face reality and accept the protocol is flawed and must be replaced," she said.

The Orange Order said support for the petition reflected the "very real sense of injustice and anger within unionism".

"We trust that the petition will raise awareness of the problems caused by the protocol in Westminster and with our fellow citizens across the United Kingdom," the Grand Lodge said in a statement.

In the Republic, Fine Gael's five MEPs said the protocol should not be renegotiated but "better utilised for everyone's benefit".

In a joint letter to Ms von der Leyen, Seán Kelly, Deirdre Clune, Frances Fitzgerald, Colm Markey and Maria Walsh said they wanted to see the protocol function "in a way that works for everyone, north and south, on the island of Ireland as well the EU”.

Welcoming the commission president's letter to the assembly, Sinn Féin MLA Caoimhe Archibald said it demonstrated that the EU is "willing to work on practical solutions".

"We call on the British government to show the same resolve by committing to proper solutions to the practical issues," she said.

The SDLP's Matthew O'Toole said: "We welcome confirmation from the commission president that she is committed to exploring every flexibility to make the protocol work.

"We need to see that in word and action from all parties to the protocol."

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