As a veteran of the Brexit Wars 2017-2020, I have learned to be highly sceptical of claims of a breakthrough in the talks about a settlement over the Northern Ireland Protocol.
That was how I felt when the United Kingdom and European Union hailed a big advance in Brexit talks over the Northern Ireland Protocol on Monday, unlocking intensive negotiations over the Irish Sea border.
The Government and Brussels struck a mini-deal on the thorny issue of EU access to UK databases on trade flows of goods and animals from Britain to Northern Ireland during lunchtime talks in London, we report today.
The agreement has given fresh impetus to the race to reach a protocol deal before the unofficial April 10 deadline of the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.
Apparently, Joe Biden, the US president, has warned that he will not attend the celebrations of the peace agreement unless a protocol deal has been reached.
This kind of optimistic chat from the UK Government and the EU reminds me of a couple of energetic parents who march to the top of a mountain and claim they have conquered it, only to realise that they have left the rest of the family in the car.
The only voices that matter in the talks about Northern Ireland are the political parties who will actually have to live with the deal long after Biden, Tony Blair and Rishi Sunak have left the commemorations in April.
And the early signs are not encouraging. One Democratic Unionist Party source told me that
“whatever has been agreed on data sharing, the NIP is the blockage for devolved government”.
A DUP spokesman added:
“The Protocol caused the collapse of the NI executive, it must be replaced with arrangements that restore our place in the UK.
“This is not a time for sticking plasters. It’s time for a serious negotiation which deals with the fundamental problem.”
Conservative MPs on the Eurosceptic European Research Group are equally suspicious.
David Jones MP, the ERG’s vice chairman, told me:
“It looks like a managerial solution to a constitutional problem. Therefore, it is no solution at all.”
At the heart of the wrangling is sovereignty. Will the European Court of Justice have any say over trading arrangements?
A senior member of the European Research Group added:
“This apparent agreement on data sharing is potentially helpful, as far as it goes – but the ultimate issue still remains unresolved.
“Unless and until the jurisdiction of the ECJ is completely removed from Northern Ireland, there will not be an enduring settlement, as we have been consistently saying for many months.”
There is plenty more to do and so far it looks to me that London and Brussels are just fiddling around the edges in solving the issues raised by the Protocol.
Until a deal is reached that addresses UK sovereignty over Northern Ireland, talk of a major breakthrough should be treated with extreme scepticism.