Gap between UK and EU on protocol remains ‘substantial’ after latest talks

·3-min read

The distance remains “substantial” between the UK and the European Union in their bid to find a resolution on the Northern Ireland Protocol, the Government has said.

Brexit minister Lord Frost and European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic met in London on Friday to continue to try and thrash out a solution on how to reform the post-Brexit agreement.

The UK and EU have both put forward proposals to address the dispute over the protocol, the part of the Brexit divorce deal negotiated by Lord Frost and signed by Boris Johnson aimed at avoiding a hard border with Ireland.

The terms effectively kept Northern Ireland in the single market, creating a border down the Irish Sea between Great Britain and the fourth nation of the UK.

But while Brussels said its proposed reforms for reducing checks and red tape were “unprecedented and far reaching”, London has continued to reject them due to the dispute mechanism role being insisted for the European Court of Justice – a red line for Lord Frost, who has set a December deadline for the protocol talks.

Boris Johnson, in comments made to reporters on the plane to the G20 meeting in Rome, said the problems with the protocol should be “simple” to resolve, but that the Government was not seeing the necessary solutions from the EU.

In a statement following Friday’s negotiations, a Government spokesman said: “The week’s talks have been conducted in a constructive spirit.

“While there is some overlap between our positions on a subset of the issues, the gaps between us remain substantial.

“As we have noted before, the EU’s proposals represent a welcome step forward but do not free up goods movements between Great Britain and Northern Ireland to the extent necessary for a durable solution.

Brexit minister Lord Frost
Brexit minister Lord Frost joined the talks on Friday (Aaron Chown/PA)

“Nor do they yet engage with the changes needed in other areas, such as subsidy policy, VAT, and governance of the protocol, including the role of the Court of Justice.

“Our position remains that substantial changes to the protocol will be needed if we are to find a sustainable solution that works in the best interests of Northern Ireland and supports the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement.”

Reform measures put on the table by the EU would see an 80% reduction in checks envisaged for retail agri-food products arriving in Northern Ireland from Great Britain, with customs paperwork slashed by half.

The proposed changes also remove the prospect of certain British produce, including Cumberland sausages, being banned from export to the region.

The EU has also offered to legislate to ensure no disruption to the supply line of medicines from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, in a move Conservative peer Lord Frost has welcomed.

However, the measures put forward by the bloc do not offer any concession on a key UK Government demand, the removal of the oversight role for the ECJ.

A commission spokesman said: “The vice-president recalled that the European Commission’s proposed bespoke arrangements are unprecedented and far-reaching.

“They address the concerns raised by the people and businesses of Northern Ireland.

“He called on the UK Government to engage constructively with these proposals.

“It is now essential to find common ground between the EU and UK’s respective positions.

“We owe it to the people of Northern Ireland to find stable solutions as soon as possible. The commission will spare no effort in this endeavour.”

Discussions on the protocol will continue next week, with Mr Sefcovic, Lord Frost and their teams due to meet in Brussels on Friday November 5.

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