More than 40 heads of governments are invited to attend summit which is the brainchild of President Emmanuel Macron
The Taoiseach says he believes embattled UK prime minister Liz Truss does want to resolve the impasse over the Northern Ireland Brexit Protocol.
All eyes on the potential for real Brexit compromise negotiations opening up will focus later this week on Ms Truss’s attendance at a broader European leaders’ summit in Prague, which is set to focus on Ukraine and co-operation during the energy crisis.
More than 40 heads of governments across Europe are invited to attend Friday’s summit, which is the brainchild of French President Emmanuel Macron.
The UK government decision to attend the newly created European Political Community has been reinforced by signals from London that Ms Truss would like to host the next such gathering of leaders.
Brussels officials were cautiously optimistic that Ms Truss’s attendance in Prague – which will follow a grinding week including her first Conservative Party conference as leader – could be a signal of a thaw in relations with potential to unlock the ongoing dangerous Brexit impasse over the North’s special trade status. Taoiseach Micheál Martin said there was a need for the EU and UK to now enter a process of real negotiation and agree post-Brexit trading arrangements.
Last Friday, Britain’s foreign minister, James Cleverly, and EU chief negotiator, Maros Sefcovic, spoke by phone and each gave a positive reaction later, raising hopes of real negotiations starting soon.
The protocol, which was agreed by the UK and EU as part of the Withdrawal Agreement, has created trade barriers on goods being shipped from Britain to the North.
Many unionists are seriously opposed and the Democratic Unionist Party is currently blocking the formation of a power-sharing executive in Belfast as a result.
All signs are that London will at the end of this month call new Stormont elections if power sharing is not restored in Belfast. But speaking to RTÉ following the Fianna Fáil ard fheis, Mr Martin struck a more upbeat note.
“I had a positive and warm meeting with Liz Truss when we met the weekend of the funeral of Queen Elizabeth. I did, to be fair, detect a genuine engagement and a wish to get this issue resolved,” he said.
Mr Martin said he believed Ms Truss wanted a negotiated compromise and her later meeting with EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen also went well.
“I think in many respects it’s about getting this into a process between the European Union and the United Kingdom to get this issue resolved once and for all, not least because of the issues like the war in Ukraine, the energy crisis,” Mr Martin added.
As foreign minister, Ms Truss introduced the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill, which is progressing through the Westminster parliament, and would empower ministers to rip up parts of the protocol without the approval of the EU. Brussels says that would breach international law and lead to retaliatory action moving towards a big trade dispute.
Mr Macron first announced the idea of a forum to include non-EU countries like Ukraine and the UK in May. Ms Truss discussed Britain’s possible participation with him when they met privately on the margins of the UN general assembly last week.
It is understood the UK wants migration to be discussed at the new forum.
But EU goodwill for the UK is scarce due to their reneging on the Brexit deal for Northern Ireland and there is also some private gloating at the current economic mess Ms Truss’s government has got itself embroiled in.
Officially, EU Council and Commission officials have not commented about Britain’s economic woes, but others across Europe have been more blunt. Spain’s economy minister Nadia Calvino branded the UK’s economic policy a “disaster”.
And when asked about Italian election results, France’s finance minister Bruno Le Maire said Britain, not Italy, was the real concern.