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Brexit breakthrough on brink as Putin mind games hammer UK -major delays as talks flounder

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OBR has ‘hugely underestimated’ potential of Brexit says Dolan

The EU/UK joint committee is meeting on Monday on the implementation of the contentious Irish Sea trading arrangements in the Brexit agreement. But a breakthrough in the talks is now expected to be put on hold as the UK focuses on the crisis in Ukraine.

According to Director of Eurasia Muktaba Rahman, Boris Johnson and Liz Truss have not had the time to concentrate on Northern Ireland Protocol arrangements in the past few weeks over concerns Russia is about to invade Ukraine.

He wrote: “Hearing that interim UK/EU deal on customs unlikely at Monday’s Joint Committee.

“Neither side wants a bust up but big gaps remain. Am told neither Liz Truss nor Boris Johnson have had time to “focus” on the Northern Ireland Protocol because of Russia/Ukraine.

“The question now is with the UK and the EU can bank and put in a joint communique.”

Ireland’s Foreign Affairs Minister also has downplayed the prospect of a major breakthrough in the negotiations.

Simon Coveney urged against “unrealistic” expectations about what might emerge from that engagement.

Mr Coveney also insisted that the Irish Government was not a bystander to the ongoing political crisis at Stormont that has flared amid ongoing unionist anger at the protocol.

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Brexit talks on hold as UK deals with Russia (Image: GETTY)

But he did express concern about the long-term future of the powersharing institutions following the recent collapse of the coalition administration.

He was commenting on the uncertainty over whether the political will would exist to reconstitute an executive following May’s Assembly election.

The minister travelled to Belfast on Thursday for meetings with political leaders two weeks after the DUP pulled first minister Paul Givan out of the Executive in protest at the so-called Irish Sea border with the rest of the UK.

Asked about the prospects of significant progress on the issues of dispute between the EU and UK next week, Mr Coveney said: “I think it’s important not to be unrealistic in terms of the expectations that may come from that meeting.

“I think the likely scenario is that there probably will be a joint statement from both sides in terms of outlining the issues that they want to try and address together.

“But we should use that as a staging point for progress, as opposed to a reminder of how far apart the two sides continue to be.”

READ MORE: Putin’s terrifying war against Ukraine begins

The minister had meetings scheduled with Sinn Fein, the SDLP, the UUP and Alliance Party on Thursday.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson was travelling on Thursday and a meeting between himself and Mr Coveney was expected in the coming days.

Asked why it had taken two weeks for him to come to Belfast to meet politicians, Mr Coveney said: “I can assure you we’re not bystanders and that’s why I’m here to meet in person with all the parties that are available to meet.

“But we have been talking to parties in the meantime, as you would expect, and, of course, I speak to the British government all the time, in particular Liz Truss, and I speak to European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic a number of times every week.

“So we are keenly involved in actually trying to find compromise positions and trying to find a way of reassuring people that the Northern Ireland Protocol can be implemented in a way that everybody can accept.

“And, of course, we’re watching closely in terms of the instability in terms of Northern Ireland politics as we lead into Assembly elections now in May.

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Brexit news: Simon Coveney urged against ‘unrealistic’ expectations (Image: GETTY)

“And, of course, thinking about post those elections how the two governments could work together with all of the parties in Northern Ireland to bring about political stability here.”

Asked if he was concerned about Stormont’s long-term future, Mr Coveney said: “I think everybody should be concerned.

“You know, we’ve had a period of tension and polarisation, much of that links to Brexit and the Northern Ireland Protocol issues, I accept that.

“But we move into an election cycle now and I think all of us have to try to think ahead in terms of the consequences of that election, we have to respect democracy and what people choose in terms of the parties and the make-up of a future assembly.

“But we’ve also got to ensure that there is sufficient trust rebuilt to ensure that both governments can work together with parties in Northern Ireland to maintain stability and the institutions that are so valuable to people’s well-being in Northern Ireland.”

Mr Coveney said both the UK and EU acknowledged the consequences for community relations in Northern Ireland of the ongoing failure to resolve the dispute over the protocol.

But he pointed to a recent opinion poll as evidence that the protocol was not a major issue of concern for most people in the region.

“Both the British government and the European Union, I think, are very conscious of the fact that the inability so far to settle some of the outstanding issues around how the protocol is implemented is having a very polarising impact on politics in Northern Ireland,” he said.

“I think we were also reminded in the last few days that not everybody on the streets of Northern Ireland are talking about the protocol in the context of these (Assembly) elections.

“In fact, less than 7% of people polled in Northern Ireland have said that the protocol is the first issue for them in terms of how they’ll vote. So you know, I think we need to put this into perspective.

“The protocol and issues around it are important and politicians like me and others have to find solutions and landing zones that are based on compromise and understanding each other’s perspectives, but also around a realistic and honest assessment of what Brexit means and the choices that flow from that.”

Mr Coveney added: “My job is to try to find solutions, to try to be optimistic about what’s possible and to try and work through issues with patience and with respect for everybody and their perspectives, so that we can try to find a basis for agreement moving forward and I think the European Union is also trying to bring that patience and understanding.”



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'Have to kick the pedal to the metal' Ex-Ukrainian leader slams Macron tank aide hesitancy

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Ex-Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk sat down on LBC Radio to discuss NATO leaders. NATO has been allying themselves with Ukraine, sending help and weaponry and taking fleeing Ukrainian refugees. NATO members held a conference on the Russian invasion earlier this week to discuss more ways to help Ukraine.

Mr Yatsenyuk pushed for Macron to send over military tanks as promised, slamming him for dragging his feet, and claiming that the war in Ukraine affects the security of every European country.

Mr Yatsenyuk said: “That’s what Putin is closely watching, as for now, Putin didn’t expect this kind of unity and consolidated and concerted actions against the Russian federation.

“But you know, the time is running and we don’t have enough time to wait until some EU member states decide to supply more weapons to Ukraine.

“Or to impose tougher and stronger sanctions on the Russian Federation, so the EU has to be decisive and they have to speed up the process of new sanctions.

“And the shipment and delivery of weapons to Ukraine, because it’s not just about Ukraina and they realise it clearly, this is about the free world.

“And this is about the security of every single nation in the European Union, so the French have to kick the pedal to the metal.”

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky explained this week that he expected “serious steps” from Western-allied countries.

Mr Zelensky repeated the calls for a no-fly zone over Ukraine to be imposed by NATO forces and complained that the Western allies had not yet provided Ukraine with sufficient planes, up to date modern anti-missile systems, tanks or anti-ship weapons.

Mr Zelensky added: “At these three summits we will see who is our friend, who is our partner and who sold us out and betrayed us.”

President Zelensky also expressed that he was grateful for the support Ukraine was continuing to receive from individual NATO member countries from around the world.

Mr Zelensky added: “But NATO has yet to show what the alliance can do to save people,” he said. “It feels like we’re in the grey zone between the West and Russia, but we’re protecting all our and your shared values.

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Mr Johnson added: “We’ve got to tighten the economic vice around Putin, sanctioning more people today, as we are, sanctioning the Wagner Group, looking at what we can do to stop Putin using his gold reserves, and also doing more to help the Ukrainians defend themselves.”

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has been playing an active role in trying to de-escalate the war with Russia by imposing tight sanctions on Russia to try and stop Putin’s warpath of destruction.

Ms Truss has warned that infighting between NATO countries at the moment could be highly detrimental for progress in ending the war.

Mr Truss said: “Russia’s targeting of critical national infrastructure is calculated and dangerous.

“It shows Putin is prepared to risk lives to sow division and confusion among allies.”



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Brexit news: What happens when Article 16 is triggered?

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After Britain’s exit from the European Union (EU) was confirmed, the two parties have been attempting to renegotiate terms for a special Brexit deal relating to Northern Ireland. Coined the Northern Ireland protocol it’s been a point of contention that’s led to threats from each side of triggering a mechanism called Article 16. But what is it?

What is Article 16?

The UK and EU agreed to the creation of the Northern Ireland protocol, in October 2019.

By allowing goods to flow freely between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland the deal removed the threat of a hard border.

But the arrangement has also resulted in what’s been labelled as an ‘Irish Sea border’.

READ MORE: ‘Totally undeniable’ MPs colluded with Remainers to try stop Brexit

Goods that now arrive into Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK are subjected to more stringent checks and controls.

In the scenario that either the UK or EU feel that the protocol is leading to significant issues or hampering their capacity to trade, then they have the option of activating Article 16.

The component sets out the process for taking unilateral “safeguard” measures, which in reality would amount to suspending parts of the deal.

Specifically, Article 16 says safeguard measures can be taken if the protocol is leading to serious “economic, societal or environmental difficulties” that are liable to persist.

He said: “Triggering Article 16 now would severely disrupt the unity of the UK and EU response to the war in Ukraine.

“It is thus perhaps not surprising that key US figures chose this week to restate that any uncertainty around the stability of the Good Friday Agreement would hinder a future UK-US trade deal.”

In recent months talks between Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and her EU counterpart Maros Sefcovic have stalled, leading to calls from Brexiteers for the UK to act.

However, Professor Menon cautioned that triggering Article 16 won’t “rid” Britain of the protocol.

He added: “I think the British Government if it triggers Article 16 will do something relatively small and contained.

“And then there’s not a massive bust-up. You don’t end up getting rid of the protocol. You end up with months if not years of negotiations, mediation and arbitration.

“So, it’s a way of doing something but it’s not a way of solving anything. In a sense you’re still stuck with the protocol and you’re still negotiating about the future of the protocol.”

In essence, were Article 16 to be triggered it wouldn’t have a huge impact on the ground.

Many of the checks on goods flowing from Britain to Northern Ireland have already been unilaterally suspended.

Triggering the mechanism itself would only start a formal dispute process that requires both sides to go into talks to resolve.



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NATO slammed as former US Army chief exposes ‘two big issues’ in united Russia response

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US Army vice chief of staff general Jack Keane, sat down on LBC radio to talk about the NATO conference which took place earlier this week. Mr Keane discussed the possibility that Putin could deploy chemical biological weapons on the battlefield. Russian President Vladimir Putin has already used the highly condemned thermobaric weapons since the war started just over a month ago.

The US Army chief acknowledged there had been no public policy declaration on the consequences Putin would face if he was to take such a barbaric action.

Mr Keane said: “Listen I was very disappointed by the NATO summit.

“I totally applaud the fact that they’re going to increase by 40k troops in Eastern Europe.

“And they’re increasing sanctions and it seems like a sense of unity.

“But on two big issues, it’s got to be disappointing, there’s no NATO public policy declaration.

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Mr Keane added: “At the end of that summit to deal with this particular issue, chemical biological weapons and nuclear weapons which the Russians have been waving in front of our face now for almost 30 days.

“What we need is… Think policy statement, not something that’s left to a reporter to ask a question on.

“And then you get a statement that you just repeated, which leads to more confirmation than anything else.

“A much better statement, using my words… I don’t want to put words into other people’s mouths.

READ MORE: Mum left fuming after letter describes her ‘active’ four-year-old daughter as overweight

“But with me, the use of any form of WMB would be unacceptable.

“We will not let it stand, it will result in decisive consequential actions and all options are on the table.

“Words to that effect, in a public policy statement, and we didn’t get it and it’s really unfortunate.

“And what it does it leaves in the minds of Putin and his  leaders just what would the reaction be, ambiguous like that and I think it’s very unfortunate.”

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Fear of the Russian military deploying chemical biological weapons has been heightened.

Ukrainian outlet InformNapalm has warned that: “Our conclusions may sound premature or too apocalyptic, but after the missile attacks and bombing of civilian infrastructure in Ukraine, which the Russian army resorted to, we believe that it is necessary to make these data public and try to thwart any such intentions of Russia.”

And NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in Brussels on Thursday: “We’ve tried to be very clear about the gravity of the use of any such chemical weapons.

“These are agents that should never be employed and certainly not on the battlefield, as we are concerned Russia might.”



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