UK, EU Start N. Ireland Talks for First Time in Eight Months

(Bloomberg) -- The UK and European Union have re-started talks over their post-Brexit relationship, in a sign relations may be thawing eight months after negotiations reached a stalemate.

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While occasional contact over technical aspects of the Northern Ireland protocol -- the part of the Brexit deal that keeps the province in the EU’s single market for goods to avoid imposing a hard border on the island of Ireland -- have continued, this week marks the first meaningful talks since February, a spokesperson for the European Commission said Monday.

British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and the EU’s chief negotiator Maros Sefcovic committed to finding joint solutions in a conversation last week, the spokesperson said.

UK Minister of State for Northern Ireland Steve Baker -- who was one of the strongest advocates for a ‘hard’ Brexit during negotiations under Theresa May and Boris Johnson -- issued an apology to the EU Monday for the government’s behavior during those years.

Baker told Ireland’s national broadcaster RTE that he’s “happy to eat humble pie” in order to restore broken relations and is confident a solution can be reached over post-Brexit trading arrangements for Northern Ireland.

“If we get into a negotiation without preconditions and sit down together in the spirit of goodwill, we can de-escalate this problem and we can get a deal which works for everyone, respecting everyone’s legitimate interests north-south and east-west,” Baker said.

The UK has been at loggerheads with the bloc since talks froze earlier this year when current Prime Minister Liz Truss was responsible for negotiations to resolve issues surrounding Northern Ireland. The region’s power-sharing government is currently suspended as unionists refuse to participate until the protocol is removed, because it treats Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the UK.

In one of her last acts as Foreign Secretary, Truss introduced legislation to scrap large parts of the Brexit agreement and replace it with new rules on customs checks, tax and arbitration -- a move with exacerbated already poor relations with the bloc.

While that bill is still being pursued, and Truss has continued to show off her euroskeptic credentials to Tory grassroots members, the talks and her attendance at French President Emmanuel Macron’s new European political “club of nations” in Prague later this week show signs of a softening approach.

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