1st Jun 2023

No breakthrough, but EU-UK keep talking in sign of Brexit hope

  • EU Commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič put his name to a joint statement with UK foreign secretary James Cleverly to 'scope work for potential solutions should continue in a constructive and collaborative spirit' (Photo: European Commission)
Listen to article

UK foreign secretary James Cleverly and EU Commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič on Monday (16 January) agreed to have more talks to resolve the dispute over post-Brexit trading rules governing Northern Ireland.

That in itself has given reason for optimism that after years of stalemate and souring relations, the two sides are progressing towards resolving key issues around trade arrangements and its oversight.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • Only the colour of the traffic markings indicates the border of the UK and the EU, between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, but Brexit has threatened to change that (Photo: Eszter Zalan)

According to a carefully-worded joint statement after a video conference by Cleverly, Šefčovič and Northern Ireland secretary Chris Heaton-Harris, "they agreed that this scoping work for potential solutions should continue in a constructive and collaborative spirit".

The fact that they agreed to continue talking suggests that the two sides found enough common ground to see a reason for pursuing the secretive negotiations.

The aim is to agree on the controversial points of the so-called Northern Ireland protocol, which governs the region's trading arrangements, and which the UK agreed to under the 2019 EU-UK divorce deal, but then refuse to implement parts of.

That agreement included some trade barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of Great Britain, in order to be able to close a possible loophole in the EU's single market.

The Democratic Unionist party (DUP), Northern Ireland's largest pro-UK political force, pulled out of a power-sharing government in Belfast over its objections to the protocol.

As a result, the region has been without a functioning government for nearly a year.

The EU and the UK would like to settle the outstanding issues by April, which marks the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday agreement that ended decades of sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland.

Success will also depend on UK prime minister Rishi Sunak ultimately having the political capital and skill to take on his own Conservative party's eurosceptic, hardline pro-Brexit wing.

Last Friday, Sunak has won the backing of opposition Labour leader Keir Starmer, who pledged his support if there is a deal in the "coming weeks".

"The time to put Northern Ireland above a Brexit purity cult, which can never be satisfied, is now," he said on a visit to Northern Ireland.

Key issues

Last week, London and Brussels secured a "breakthrough" with an agreement that will allow the EU to share real-time UK data on trade flows across the Irish Sea from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

That has given way to hope that the two sides could agree on how to deal with goods going to Northern Ireland only, and those moving forward to the EU, one of the key outstanding trade hurdles.

Another is the issue of tariffs, where a deal could see British steel arriving in Northern Ireland exempted from EU tariffs.

A harder nut to crack could be the issue of taxation and state-aid rules, where the EU insists that Northern Ireland needs to follow the bloc's rules as it is essentially part of the EU's single market.

Reaching a deal on sanitary controls on agri-food products and livestock also remains difficult.

The UK no longer follows EU regulations, so physical checks must be carried out at the Irish Sea border between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland — as the EU wants to make sure no disease gets through, but the UK wants get rid of checks.

Also politically difficult issues remain to be settled.

The role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has been sensitive for years — getting rid of the oversight of the EU's top court is a question of sovereignty for hardline Brexiteers. However, having the court's oversight over EU rules is also a red line for Brussels.

A new arbitration body with ECJ involvement could be a way out, but that might be a step too far both sides.


Post-Brexit, UK is now reliant on EU goodwill for its security

Brexit has curtailed Britain's role within European internal security, presenting new risks. The greatest impact comes from the loss of UK influence — and the newfound reliance on informal influence and the goodwill of its European counterparts.

EU takes legal action against UK over post-Brexit trade

"Let's call a spade a spade, this is illegal," EU commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič said on the UK's move to introduce legislation suspending parts of the Northern Ireland protocol, as the commission launched several probes against London.

EU warns Truss to stick to Brexit deal

The former foreign minister was the one who introduced Northern Ireland protocol bill earlier this year, which would allow the UK government to abandon parts of the protocol — in breach of its divorce agreement with the EU.

Johnson quits, leaving Brexit headaches to successor

British prime minister Boris Johnson has resigned as Conservative party leader, starting a race among Conservative MPs to replace him as prime minister but leaving a range of issues — Brexit, Northern Ireland, and Scottish independence — for his successor.


UK's Sunak edges towards closing post-Brexit trade deal

As EU diplomats talked of unprecedented momentum to seal the deal, the old hurdle remained: having a UK premier invest and risk sufficient political capital at home to convince his parties' Brexit hardliners and DUP to move on.


Sanctions and possible post-Brexit deal This WEEK

EU foreign affairs ministers will on Monday have an informal exchange with Ukraine's foreign affairs minister Dmytro Kuleba. They will also talk to Moldova's deputy PM, whose country has also accused Russia of meddling in its affairs.


What a Spanish novelist can teach us about communality

In a world where cultural clashes and sectarianism seems to be on the increase, Spanish novelist Javier Cercas (b.1962) takes the opposite approach. He cherishes both life in the big city and in the countryside.


Poland and Hungary's ugly divorce over Ukraine

What started in 2015 as a 'friends-with-benefits' relationship between Viktor Orbán and Jarosław Kaczyński, for Hungary and Poland, is ending in disgust and enmity — which will not be overcome until both leaders leave.

Latest News

  1. Europe's TV union wooing Lavrov for splashy interview
  2. ECB: eurozone home prices could see 'disorderly' fall
  3. Adapting to Southern Europe's 'new normal' — from droughts to floods
  4. Want to stop forced migration from West Africa? Start by banning bottom trawling
  5. Germany unsure if Orbán fit to be 'EU president'
  6. EU Parliament chief given report on MEP abuse 30 weeks before sanction
  7. EU clashes over protection of workers exposed to asbestos
  8. EU to blacklist nine Russians over jailing of dissident

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. International Sustainable Finance CentreJoin CEE Sustainable Finance Summit, 15 – 19 May 2023, high-level event for finance & business
  2. ICLEISeven actionable measures to make food procurement in Europe more sustainable
  3. World BankWorld Bank Report Highlights Role of Human Development for a Successful Green Transition in Europe
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic summit to step up the fight against food loss and waste
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersThink-tank: Strengthen co-operation around tech giants’ influence in the Nordics
  6. EFBWWEFBWW calls for the EC to stop exploitation in subcontracting chains

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. InformaConnecting Expert Industry-Leaders, Top Suppliers, and Inquiring Buyers all in one space - visit Battery Show Europe.
  2. EFBWWEFBWW and FIEC do not agree to any exemptions to mandatory prior notifications in construction
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ways to prevent gender-based violence
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersCSW67: Economic gender equality now! Nordic ways to close the pension gap
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersCSW67: Pushing back the push-back - Nordic solutions to online gender-based violence
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersCSW67: The Nordics are ready to push for gender equality

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us