Northern Ireland: EU wants to solve Brexit trade issues by year end

·3-min read

Brussels is aiming to resolve all outstanding issues with the UK over the Northern Ireland Protocol before the end of the year, a top official said on Tuesday.

Maroš Šefčovič told reporters on Tuesday evening that the two sides are holding "very frequent discussions".

"I can also reveal that we are talking at the expert level at least on a bi-weekly basis," added Šefčovič, European Commission Vice-President and co-chair of the EU-UK Joint Committee & Partnership Council.

"We want to arrive, together with our UK partners, to joint solutions and I think that this process cannot be eternal and therefore I think that we should do our utmost to resolve all outstanding issues before the end of the year," he said.

London, which negotiated and approved the Northern Ireland Protocol, has decried the policy as absurd since the country has fully left the European Union because it creates a de-facto border in the Irish Sea between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The British province has remained a part of the EU Single Market to avoid the creation of a physical border between Northern Ireland the Republic of Ireland, an EU member state. It's feared that would see a flare-up in the sectarian violence that plagued the region in the late 20th century.

Checks are thus expected to be carried out on goods travelling between Great Britain and Northern Ireland to ensure they conform with EU rules.

The UK has unilaterally extended grace periods, which postponed the implementation of key parts of the agreement. London now demands a "complete overhaul" of the protocol, which Brussels has refused. The EU has, however, paused its infringement proceedings against the UK over the grace periods.

Šefčovič, who visited Northern Ireland earlier this month to meet with business and political leaders, said on Tuesday "there is a lot to be discussed and a lot to assess from all aspects" still and reiterated that any solutions would have to be found "within the framework of the protocol".

"The protocol is, you would understand, very important to us, because we spent quite some time, several years, to ponder all other options and we clearly concluded, together with our UK partner, that this is the best, most, and only available solution to preserve peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland, to have a solution which is good for all communities in Northern Ireland and which offers also unparalleled, unprecedented opportunities for the businesses in Northern Ireland," he went on.

He said the EU has so far been "very measured, very calm, very constructive" in its response to the UK in order to "create the space" for talks and welcomed "a constructive attitude not only between us and between our teams but also in the way how we communicate and I think it's very important for improving the overall atmosphere."

Asked if EU member states have agreed on a joint response should the UK trigger Article 16, which allows both sides to take unilateral action to suspend part of the agreement, Šefčovič stressed that "we hope that we would avoid this scenario of article 16, but of course, the eventuality is there."

If it is triggered, he added, "we would have of course to look through all the options we have under the Withdrawal Agreement and Trade and Cooperation Agreement."

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