PM calls for rapid progress to be made on finding NI Protocol solution

·3-min read

“Real progress must be achieved soon” in the negotiations to find a solution to the issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol, Boris Johnson has told the European Union’s top official.

Downing Street said the Prime Minister told European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen during their meeting on the margins of the G20 in Rome that a fix was needed “rapidly” to prevent further disruption in Northern Ireland.

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 Mr 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 – a situation that has angered Unionists and hit the UK’s internal market.

But while Brussels has put forward reforms for reducing checks and red tape, London has continued to reject them due to the dispute mechanism role being insisted for the European Court of Justice – a red line for Brexit minister Lord Frost, who has set a December deadline for the protocol talks.

Issuing a readout of the Saturday talks in Italy, a Number 10 spokeswoman said: “The Prime Minister welcomed the constructive talks which have taken place and are continuing between the UK and the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

“He noted, however, that substantial gaps remain between our positions, including on the issue of governance, and noted that real progress must be achieved soon.

“The Prime Minister underlined the need to agree solutions rapidly to safeguard the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement and reduce disruption to families and businesses in Northern Ireland.”

Lord Frost similarly spoke of a “substantial” divide between the two sides after meeting with commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic in London on Friday in a bid to thrash out a solution on how to overhaul the Brexit 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 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.

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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