Northern Ireland news

Chair of European Parliament international trade committee is 'optimistic' that an EU-UK will get a deal on the protocol

German MEP Bernd Lange, chair of the European Parliament’s Committee on International Trade
John Manley

THE CHAIR of an influential European Parliament committee has said he is "optimistic" that a resolution to issues around the protocol can be found.

Bernd Lange, a German MEP who chairs the parliament's Committee on International Trade, was speaking to The Irish News on the eve of his visit to Belfast tomorrow.

He said there are a "lot of possibilities to simplify" the protocol but he was critical of the British government legislation that seeks to disapply elements of the post-Brexit trade arrangements, describing the bill as a "populist signal" to Tory hardliners.

Mr Lange will lead a delegation of MEPs on a two-day visit to the north beginning tomorrow. He visited Belfast in December last year, when he met business representatives and members of civic society, which he described as a "positive experience".

Speaking from Brussels ahead of his visit, which comes as negotiations between the UK government and the EU resume after stalling for more than six months, the Social Democratic Party representative conceded there are "practical problems" with the protocol but that it gives the north a "big advantage".

The committee chair welcomed the resumption of talks between London and Brussels, saying he was hopeful that the Truss administration has a more "constructive approach" than its predecessor.

"For the last half year, the government of Boris Johnson was not able or willing – often both – to negotiate in a proper way with the European Union, but we are patient and we are not escalating this situation," he said.

"Now my feeling is that there is a more constructive perspective for solving the problems."

Mr Lange said he is "quite relaxed" about the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, believing it is primarily about internal Conservative Party politics.

"I think this whole exercise with the bill is some some kind of populist signal to their own electorate and also to their own membership, as well as giving a little bit of pressure to the European Union," he said.

He said the issues that could be resolved related mostly to SPS (sanitary and phytosanitary) checks and that the EU was willing to simplify procedures on export declarations, with QR codes being used to distinguish between products destined only for the north and those moving on into the Republic.

"We did it in the past regarding the pets, that they have not to go to quarantine; the question of generic medicine; and we changed our our legislation inside the European Union for that, so there is great willingness to simplify the procedure and solves the political problems," he said.

Mr Lange said it was important to "understand how your partner is thinking and what their problems are".

He said he was "optimistic" that a deal could be secured.

"We've had the first contact with the new government in Downing Street and they are preparing the first meeting of a new process of negotiation," he said.

"With the DUP, let's see – there has to be a solution as well, so I guess inside the DUP there's also some kinds of discussion about what the protocol means and how it can be changed in a way, which is not going in the direction of division from Northern Ireland, from from the UK, and I guess we can make that clear – so I'm hoping for a constructive dialogue."