03 July 2023

Cleverly hails ‘close and friendly’ UK-EU ties in Brussels speech

03 July 2023

The Foreign Secretary hailed the “close and friendly” co-operation between London and Brussels in a speech to EU parliamentarians.

James Cleverly said the “level of trust” between him and European Commission diplomat Maros Sefcovic was part of the reason the Windsor Framework was secured.

He accepted that it had taken “slightly longer” than many would have liked to reach the agreement but added: “We have to recognise that we will not agree on everything, but in mature relationships we can deal with differences while making the most of areas where we agree.”

“I’d like to say thanks for the spirit of friendship and cooperation that (Mr Sefcovic) brought into all our meetings and the level of trust that I was able to invest in our relationshp I think is part of the reason we got the Windsor Framework over the line,” he said.

“We have seen real progress and I am committed to maintaining that prositive trajectory.”

The speech to the UK-EU Parliamentary Partnership Assembly, a body created as part of the post-Brexit trade deal, comes as Rishi Sunak’s Government seeks better relations with the bloc.

Mr Cleverly is also expected to stress the importance of continued support for Ukraine as part of the visit.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen was in London last month, as part of the UK-hosted Ukraine Recovery Conference.

The Prime Minister earlier this year brokered the Windsor Framework deal with the EU, designed to address concerns over the operation of post-Brexit arrangements in Northern Ireland.

While the deal did not lead to the return of powersharing at Stormont, which the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) continues to boycott, it did usher in hopes of a new foundation for UK-EU ties.

But Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, leader of the DUP, was among members at the event who voiced concerns.

He said: “It is right that we avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland for the good of the Good Friday Agreement, but the Good Friday Agreement is not a one-sided agreement. It requires the support of unionists as well as nationalists in Northern Ireland.

“The concept of a border in the Irish Sea is harmful from a unionist perspective to Northern Ireland’s ability to trade within the United Kingdom, so we will continue to work particularly with the UK Government to ensure that the arrangements for trade within the internal market of the United Kingdom are not affected in the future by the continued application of EU law,” he said.

The Windsor Framework was Rishi Sunak’s attempt to alleviate unionist concerns with the Northern Ireland protocol by decreasing checks on goods travelling to and from the UK mainland, but Stormont remains in flux.

Citizens’ rights and illegal migration were also among topics raised at the meeting.

Mr Cleverly is also holding talks with Nato secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg, ahead of a crunch summit in Vilnius, Lithuania.

It comes as Labour’s shadow foreign secretary David Lammy is expected to be in Paris for meetings with French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna, as well as Transport Minister Clement Beaune.

It is understood that Mr Lammy is keen for discussions on his party’s proposals for a UK-EU security pact, efforts to tackle smuggler gangs, as well as possible improvements to the Brexit trade deal.

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