Mon. Jan 24th, 2022

The UK and the EU agreed on Friday to step up talks to try to reach a compromise on controversial post-Brexit trade arrangements for Northern Ireland that have soured the relationship between the two sides.

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and European Brexit Commissioner Maros Sefcovic issued a joint statement praising the “friendly atmosphere” after their first face-to-face talks at her grace and favor mansion at Chevening in Kent.

The tone was very different from last year. Lord David Frost, the British Brexit negotiator who resigned in December, often focused on differences between the two sides and regularly threatened to Northern Ireland Protocol, the part of Britain’s withdrawal agreement with the EU that controls trade between Great Britain and the region.

The UK is demanding a radical revision of the protocol on the grounds that it impedes the flow of goods to Northern Ireland as well as causes political unrest in the region.

Truss and Sefcovic said British and EU officials would hold “intensified talks” next week, with the British Foreign Secretary and the European Brexit commissioner meeting on January 24.

“What I want is a negotiated solution, I think there is an agreement that needs to be made,” said Truss, who took responsibility for Britain’s negotiations with the EU on the Northern Ireland protocol following Frost’s resignation. . “We had constructive talks.”

Truss has previously said she could activate Article 16 of the protocol to suspend several of its provisions, but she also put more emphasis than Frost on reaching a compromise with the EU.

“It is clear that if we do not make sufficient progress, we will have to look at the alternatives, but my absolute desire is to find an agreement that works for people,” she added.

People close to the talks between Truss and Sefcovic said officials had not become involved in discussions at the technical level about the material issues at stake. Sefcovic said on Twitter: “Now is the time to start bringing issues off the table.”

Under the UK Withdrawal Agreement, Northern Ireland remained in the EU internal market for goods to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland and to preserve the peace process enshrined in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

The Northern Ireland Protocol rather placed a border in the Irish Sea, and required customs and regulatory controls on goods going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

To try to compromise on the protocol, the European Commission proposed in October to cut up to 80 percent of the checks on animal and plant-based products, and halve the customs paperwork.

But the UK said it should be just as easy to send something from Liverpool to Belfast as Liverpool to Birmingham.

EU officials said the current talks involving Truss and Sefcovic represented a step forward after the process under Frost came to a halt.

Simon Coveney, Ireland’s Foreign Secretary, called for a compromise on the Northern Ireland Protocol soon, well ahead of the dissolution of the region’s March March meeting and elections scheduled for 5 May.

“My understanding is that both sides have actually simply set out their views,” he told RTÉ radio. “At this stage there has been no real progress in trying to find landing zones, but I do not think that was the purpose of this meeting..

He added: “We would like, if possible, to resolve these issues by the end of February.”

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