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Brexit Minister Lord Frost has said a “significant” gap remains between the UK and the European Union after talks aimed at resolving issues surrounding Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit arrangements ended in disappointment.
The Tory peer repeated a threat to unilaterally scrap some of the rules governing trade after no breakthroughs were made during talks with European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic in London on Friday.
Mr Sefcovic said a “decisive push” is required to get a medicines deal over the line and the pair agreed to continue their endeavours to resolve the dispute by discussing changes to the Northern Ireland Protocol in Brussels next week.
While some progress on medicines was welcomed, the UK team was understood to be disappointed that there has been little in the way of progress on the flow of goods between Britain and Northern Ireland while governance and subsidy control remain points of contention.
Lord Frost repeated a threat to use Article 16 of the protocol to override some of the rules he negotiated because of the impact on Northern Ireland.
“We would still like to find a negotiated solution. But the gap between our positions is still significant and we are ready to use Article 16 to protect the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement if other solutions cannot be found,” he said in a statement.
Technical discussions between their teams will continue before the pair meet again next Friday.
Mr Sefcovic said the emphasis of Friday’s talks was on the supply of medicines, adding: “A decisive push is needed to ensure predictability.
“We’ll meet again next week.”
International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan has suggested that triggering Article 16 would not be used before Christmas.
The protocol effectively places Northern Ireland in the EU’s single market for goods to help avoid a hard border with Ireland.
But this has led to checks on goods crossing from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, creating a barrier to trade within the UK.
The meeting between Lord Frost and Mr Sefcovic also came at a time of strained relations over post-Brexit licences to fish in UK waters, with French fishermen protesting on Friday over the issue.
Crews blocked French ports and ferry traffic crossing the Channel, causing disruption to the flow of goods in Calais, Ouistreham and Saint-Malo.