31st May 2023

EU and UK try to melt ice in post-Brexit talks

  • UK foreign minister Liz Truss and EU Commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič met in Brussels to push talks ahead on trading arrangements with Northern Ireland (Photo: European Commission)
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EU Commission vice-president Maroš Šefčovič said on Monday (24 January) discussions with the UK could resolve the long-standing Northern Irish trading conundrum "if goodwill was maintained."

The Slovak commission vice-president, who oversees the post-Brexit arrangements with the UK met with British foreign minister Liz Truss on Monday in Brussels. The two held a talks in a "constructive atmosphere", according to a joint statement.

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"So if political goodwill is maintained, our discussions could lead to a timely agreement on durable solutions that would immediately and significantly help operators on the ground," Šefčovič after the meeting.

Šefčovič said discussions should to be "laser-focused" on practical challenges faced by people and businesses in Northern Ireland.

The British province's trading arrangements are governed by a protocol attached to the withdrawal agreement signed between the EU and the UK government in 2019.

It is designed to keep an open border between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland, and has effectively created a trade border in the Irish Sea, angering the province's pro-British unionists.

The UK government's wants to remove custom controls on goods moving from mainland Britain to Northern Ireland.

The EU argues this could become a backdoor route for British goods, and other non-EU goods, entering the bloc's single market via Ireland without any checks.

The talks over the issue have soured during the last year, with London accusing the bloc of trampling on British sovereignty, and even suggested it could suspend parts of the arrangement by triggering part of the protocol known as Article 16.

The British government has also indefinitely suspended implementing the border checks, and wants the protocol renegotiated. It also wants the removal of oversight by the European Court of Justice on disputes, which the EU firmly rejects.

Last October, the EU proposed special arrangements to make it easier for businesses and people to get through the paperwork: it proposed a 80 percent reduction in checks on food products arriving in Northern Ireland.

It also proposed to reduce the customs information that companies need to provide.

However, the EU wants safeguards to protect its single market.

"I am not in the business of setting artificial deadlines, but I will act with a sense of urgency," Sefcovic continued.

The two sides on Monday issued a joint statement, a positive development in itself in the divisive Brexit talks, saying Monday's meeting took place in a constructive atmosphere.

Officials will reconvene next week, ending with another Truss-Šefčovič meeting. Truss took on the Brexit brief, in addition to her full role as foreign secretary, after the resignation of the UK Brexit minister, Lord Frost, in December.

The two have also agreed that the EU-UK Joint Committee, which oversees the implementation of the divorce deal, will take place next month. This will be the first time the panel will have met since June.

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