Brexit tensions could be about to explode after Rishi Sunak reportedly privately asked ministers and officials to draw up plans for rebuilding the UK’s relations with the European Union. Senior civil servants have been putting together proposals for how Britain can work more closely with EU member states across a series of policy areas, according to a report from Bloomberg, which added the move has in part been driven by Russia’s war in Ukraine.
The plans are understood to be focusing on defense, migration, and “economic statecraft”, which consists of elements such as trade, energy and international standards.
The move from the Prime Minister, who voted to leave the bloc, to forge closer relations with the EU was welcomed by ministers, diplomats and officials, but they could be furiously opposed by ardent Brexiteers keen on distancing the UK from the Union.
This comes at a time when there is growing hope among UK officials that they will be able to come to an agreement with Brussels on the long-running dispute over the Northern Ireland Protocol, which was agreed way back in 2019.
The mechanism was designed to keep the Irish land border free-flowing but regulatory and customs checks on goods to the Irish Sea have created economic barriers on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
Mr Sunak could reportedly use any breakthrough in that deadlock as a platform for more comprehensive and improved relations with the EU.
The Prime Minister’s team sees his relationship with French President Emmanuel Macron as promising, according to Bloomberg, and closer cooperation between the cross-Channel nations will be key in clamping down on the migrant crisis.
Britain is also drawing up detailed plans to boost defense ties with Europe as Russia’s war in Ukraine continues, while Defense Secretary Ben Wallace is calling for greater investment in Britain’s Armed Forces.
The proposals reportedly under consideration are a formal defense and security relationship and dialogue between the two sides, in addition to a legal agreement to more easily allow the British military to join EU operations.
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Britain officially left the EU more than three years ago but the issue around post-Brexit trading arrangements in Northern Ireland still remains a major area of disagreement between the two sides.
On Friday, London and Brussels reiterated their commitment to finding “joint solutions” to differences around the post-Brexit trading arrangements.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris held a video call with European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic.
Following the meeting, Mr Cleverly tweeted: “I reiterated our determination to find solutions to the full range of challenges on the NI Protocol, working together with the EU. We will speak again soon. Teams continue to work hard on finding a way forward. “
Mr Sefcovic also took to Twitter following the latest talks to say it had been a “productive” call.
He tweeted: “We took stock of our ongoing work on the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland. Our objective is clear – joint solutions to practical concerns in NI. Hard work but time well invested.”