Getting UK/EU deal on NI protocol before end of year ‘very tall order’, says Irish foreign minister
Simon Coveney, Ireland’s foreign minister, has said it would be a “tall order” to seal a new Brexit agreement on the Northern Ireland protocol before the end of the year.
But, after a meeting today with Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis, Coveney said progress was being made as officials from Brussels and London continue talks for a seventh week.
Speaking at the Foreign Office in London following a British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference, Coveney said:
There hasn’t been a breakthrough moment in the last number of weeks, but I think there has been a deeper understanding of each other’s positions.
Do I think that all issues can be resolved linked to the protocol by the end of the year? I think that’s a very tall order and unlikely to happen.
Lewis said at the same event that London would rather find a solution to the issues but repeated that the UK maintained the option of triggering Article 16 of the protocol.
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Sturgeon apologises over booster appointment problems in Scotland
Nicola Sturgeon has apologised after admitting people had been wrongly turned away from Covid booster jab appointments, as she came under intense pressure from the Scottish Conservative leader, Douglas Ross, during a rowdy first minister’s questions.
Ross pressed the first minister to explain why a number of Scottish health boards had failed to honour booster jab appointments for those aged 40 and over, despite Sturgeon, the health secretary, Humza Yousaf, and chief medical officer, Gregor Smith, all urging people to immediately book boosters earlier this week.
Ross said the Tories had surveyed Scotland’s 14 health boards and found only five had publicly confirmed the new booster rules (which said boosters can be booked three months after a second jab) had been implemented; five said they would “soon” and four had not provided an update.
“We know that the proper procedures haven’t been put in place; we know people were being turned away,” he said, leading to the presiding officer, Alison Johnstone, to ask Scottish National party MSPs to stop shouting him down.
Sturgeon said glitches were unavoidable, and added: “I absolutely accept for anybody who is finding themselves in this position, it’s really frustrating and I’m sorry they’re having that experience.” She urged those affected to rebook appointments online.
But she said only a small number of people were affected. Scotland had the best vaccinations uptake rate of any part of the UK, and was also boosting people fastest. “This is an enormous logistical exercise,” she said. Smith had only officially issued the updated advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) yesterday, she said.
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