A hard border in Ireland must be avoided, Irish Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has demanded.

Prime Minister and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar spoke by phone on Monday as talks continued between the UK and the EU on the Northern Ireland Protocol.

It is the first phone call between the two prime ministers since Varadkar became Taoiseach last month.

Read more: Final power-sharing deadline in NI passes without a breakthrough

The post-Brexit deal was agreed between the two sides in 2019 to maintain regulatory and customs controls on goods moving between the UK and Northern Ireland in the Irish Sea to avoid a hard border in Ireland.

However, unionists opposed the protocol, claiming that it kept Northern Ireland at a distance from the rest of the UK.

The DUP refused to attend the Stormont meeting until union issues were resolved.

Jeffrey Donaldson, DUP leader, with party members Emma Little-Pengelly and Gordon Lyons
Jeffrey Donaldson, DUP leader, with party members Emma Little-Pengelly and Gordon Lyons

The ongoing standoff in Belfast was one of what was described as a “good conversation” between the two prime ministers.

An Irish Government spokesman indicated that Mr Varadkar and Mr Sunak discussed a range of issues, including Protocol, Stormont and the wider British-Irish relationship.

They indicated that both recognize the importance of continued EU and UK participation in the protocol.

The Taoiseach is said to have reiterated the need for a solution that avoids a hard border on the island of Ireland and protects the integrity of the single market.

They also spoke of the positive cooperation between the EU, the UK and the US in response to the war against Ukraine and discussed the implications of the proposed introduction of electronic travel authorization for third-country nationals crossing the border.

Meanwhile, Mr. Varadkar also reiterated his government’s concerns about the bill to deal with Northern Ireland’s troubled past, which is currently going through the legislative process in Westminster.

A Downing Street spokesman said the two leaders were considering the need for Northern Ireland to have a joint power government as soon as possible and agreed to remain in close contact.

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