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Editorial: EU proposals can lead to lasting deal

AGAINST a familiar background of threats and recriminations, distractions and dissembling, we are hopefully now entering a decisive round of negotiations to hammer out sustainable solutions to issues around the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The EU last night published proposals aimed at greatly easing some of the practical difficulties created by the Irish Sea border, which keeps the north within its free-flowing single market for goods.

Having spent time listening to the concerns of businesses, European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic said his plan would scrap checks on most food products and slash customs paperwork by half.

All of this is welcome, as is a pledge to ensure there are no barriers on medicines coming from Britain.

The proposals came after UK Brexit minister Lord Frost, in a typically belligerent speech, called for an entirely new protocol on the basis it was not working for the people of Northern Ireland.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, who has threatened to bring down the assembly over the Irish Sea border, last night said the EU proposals fell short of his demands.

However, nationalists and others reacted positively to the changes, with Sinn Fein seeking a recall of the assembly to voice support for the protocol.

That we remain stuck in a cycle of conflict five years on from the Brexit referendum is a consequence of the absence of a plan for exiting the EU, and the shambolic way the British government went about negotiations before disowning the very agreement it reached.

In a remarkable intervention, Dominic Cummings, former chief adviser to Boris Johnson, said this week that the prime minister "never had a scoobydoo what the deal he signed meant".

Tellingly, he also said the intention was "to ditch the bits we didn't like" after winning an election on the basis of the "oven-ready" deal.

The claims clearly angered tanaiste Leo Varadkar, who helped negotiate the protocol. He said the "message must go out to all countries around the world that this is a British government that doesn't necessarily keep its word".

There is no doubt the UK's conduct has caused significant damage to its international reputation and will cast a long shadow over relations with its European neighbours.

What is important now is that the EU proposals are considered in the spirit they are intended and both sides look past previous missteps to finally reach a lasting deal for the betterment of people and businesses across the continent.

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