Talks aimed at ending the deadlock over the implementation of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement in Northern Ireland have ended without a breakthrough.
Following a three-and-a-half hour meeting with European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic, Brexit minister Lord Frost said they had had a “frank and honest” discussion and had agreed to continue the negotiations.
“There weren’t any breakthroughs. There aren’t any breakdowns either and we’re going to carry on talking,” he said.
The meeting took place against the backdrop of continuing tensions over checks on goods moving to Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK as required under the terms of the Northern Ireland Protocol in the agreement.
Lord Frost refused to rule out the prospect that the UK could unilaterally delay the implementation of checks on chilled meats – due to come in at the end of the month – if there was no agreement before then.
Ahead of the meeting, Mr Sefcovic raised the prospect that such a move could trigger a trade war, saying the EU would respond “firmly and resolutely” if the UK failed to meet its international treaty obligations.
Lord Frost said: “Obviously we did discuss that subject amongst many others today. There weren’t any breakthroughs on it and we continue to consider all our options on that and many other issues.”
He added: “What we really now need to do is very urgently find some solutions which support the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, support the peace process in Northern Ireland and allow things to return to normal.
“What the EU is insisting on is we should operate the protocol in an extremely purist way. The reality is that it’s a very balanced document that’s designed to support the peace process and deal with the very sensitive politics in Northern Ireland.
“It’s obviously best to find a negotiated agreement if we can and that’s what we are really intending to do. If we can’t, and we’re working very hard to do it, then obviously we consider all our options for next steps.”
In a statement following the meeting the Government expressed concern that there had been no “substantive progress” across a range of issues and warned there was a danger the supply of medicines could be affected unless there was an early breakthrough.
“The UK will continue to put forward detailed proposals, as we have throughout this year, and looks forward to discussing any proposals the EU may put forward,” it said.
“There is an urgent need for further discussions in order to make real progress, particularly to avoid disruption to critical supplies such as medicines.”