I propose to take Questions Nos. 83, 87 and 99 together.
I have clearly communicated Ireland’s position and priorities in relation to the draft Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland to the EU Taskforce as well as to my UK counterparts in recent weeks. I met with Michel Barnier immediately on 26 February and again on 19 March, following the recent round of intensive negotiations with the UK. Recent engagement with British Ministers has included the Minister for the Cabinet Office, David Lidington, the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU, David Davis, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley.
I welcome the progress made on the draft Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland during the most recent round of EU-UK negotiations, which concluded on 19 March. This is recorded in an annotated, colour-coded version of the draft Withdrawal Agreement published by the Commission Taskforce on 19 March, which reflects agreement on some articles of the draft text, including the Common Travel Area and Other Areas of North South cooperation.
During the negotiations, the UK also accepted that a legally operative version of the ‘backstop’ for the border will be included in the Withdrawal Agreement, in line with paragraph 49 of the Joint Progress Report agreed last December, and that all the issues identified in the draft Protocol reflect those that must be addressed. These were important steps forward.
The European Council, in agreeing additional negotiating Guidelines on 23 March, stressed that work remains to be done in order to achieve overall agreement on the draft Withdrawal Agreement, especially with regard to the Protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland. It reiterated that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. To this end, an intensive schedule of negotiations has been agreed between the EU and the UK with a view to continuing efforts to narrow the remaining gaps on the draft Protocol and its annexes, including with regard to Article 4, which addresses the free movement of goods between Northern Ireland and the EU. The overall aim is to maintain full alignment with those rules of the Single Market and Customs Union that are necessary to protect North South cooperation and the all-island economy as well as to avoid a hard border. It will be necessary for all the EU rules involved to be listed exhaustively in annexes to the Protocol and that work is continuing.
The first rounds took place earlier this week and more will be held over the coming weeks. Irish officials will be involved in some of these meetings where the Taskforce believes that this would be helpful, and we will of course remain in close contact with it.