No 10: Progress ‘limited’ in disputes with EU but more talks can bridge gap

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Downing Street has insisted that disagreements between the UK and the European Union could still be bridged through “further intensive discussions” despite the EU condemning the lack of compromise as “disappointing”.

No 10 said “limited” progress had been made in talks between Brexit minister Lord Frost and European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic in Brussels on Friday.

Mr Sefcovic said he had been disappointed in the UK’s unwillingness to compromise.

A UK Government spokesman said Lord Frost had said “the EU’s proposals did not currently deal effectively with the fundamental difficulties in the way the Protocol was operating”.

But the spokesman said: “He added that, in the UK view, these gaps could still be bridged through further intensive discussions.

“He underlined that the UK’s preference was still to find a consensual solution that protected the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement and the everyday lives of people in Northern Ireland.”

However, in a press conference, Mr Sefcovic said the EU’s proposals for altering the protocol had been a “big move from us”.

However he added: “We have seen no move at all from the UK side. I found this disappointing and once again, I urge the UK Government to engage with us sincerely.”

To avoid a hard border with Ireland, the protocol effectively keeps Northern Ireland inside the EU’s single market for goods, resulting in some checks for products crossing the Irish Sea from Great Britain, which left the single market.

Lord Frost said he would not immediately trigger Article 16, which would allow parts of the deal to be suspended, but said it was “very much on the table and has been since July”.

But Mr Sefcovic said invoking the protocol would have “serious consequences”.

“Serious for Northern Ireland, as it would lead to instability and unpredictability and serious also for the EU UK relations in general, as it would mean a rejection of EU efforts to find a consensual solution to the implementation of the protocol,” he said.

Lord Frost has previously claimed the conditions for using the mechanism have been met because of the difficulties being caused.

No 10 added there is no set timescale on how long talks with the EU can continue, and Lord Frost will meet Mr Sefcovic again in London next week, with officials continuing discussions in the meantime.

Senior EU figures are hopeful that the use of Article 16 of the protocol can be avoided.

Loyalists during a rally against the Northern Ireland Protocol in Newtownards Road, Belfast (Peter Morrison/PA)

The UK also wants an end to the European Court of Justice’s oversight role, something that Brussels has said is impossible.

Lord Frost and Mr Sefcovic also discussed fishing rights, amid a dispute between the UK and France over licences for small vessels.

The UK Government spokesman said: “There was also a short discussion of fisheries policy.

“Lord Frost reiterated that the UK had licensed 98% of EU vessels seeking to fish in UK waters, representing almost 1,700 vessels, in line with its obligations under the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (TCA).

“He repeated that vessels must provide the necessary evidence of historic fishing activity required by the TCA in order to receive a licence.”

Mr Sefcovic added: “The Trade and Cooperation Agreement is clear, vessels that were fishing in the territorial waters of the UK and crown dependencies should be allowed to continue. All French vessels entitled to a license should receive one.”

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