Northern Ireland remains bone of contention in latest Brexit talks

·2 min read
British Brexit Minister David Frost. Photo: Reuters
Brexit minister David Frost. Photo: Reuters

The issue of Northern Ireland and trade remain crucial topics as David Frost, the UK’s Brexit minister, and the European Commission vice-president Maroš Sefcovic meet on Friday.

Brussels has warned the UK government that its Brexit trade deal is "intrinsically linked" to enforcing the Northern Ireland Protocol. Šefčovič has gone as far as to say: "One cannot exist without the other".

The UK has been threatening to suspend the Northern Ireland Agreement, which it wants renegotiated on more favourable terms, and has demanded that the European Court of Justice no longer keep its role as arbiter of disputes over EU law in Northern Ireland. 

Šefčovič's comments may be taken by some to mean that the EU will suspend the Trade and Cooperation Agreement it has signed with the UK should Britain pull the plug.  

The deal guarantees UK businesses effectively zero tariffs when trading with the EU.

Meanwhile Frost told reporters the Northern Ireland issue has not been discussed yet and the two sides have “very different positions" on it.

“But I know the taoiseach said last night that the EU had serious intent to resolve the difficulties that we’re facing, and I think that’s very good thing that we take that very seriously.”

He was referring to Irish taoiseach [prime minister] Micheál Martin's interview with the BBC, where he said: “Where there is a will, there is a way, and I think both sides just need to knuckle down and get it resolved.

Frost also told reporters: "I wouldn't expect any breakthroughs on anything today. But there are some issues that we might make better progress on than others."

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A protocol in the Withdrawal Agreement signed by UK prime minister Boris Johnson keeps Northern Ireland in the EU single market and draws a customs border down the Irish Sea. This is to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

In October, the EU said it could significantly reduce the number of checks on goods coming from Great Britain to Northern Ireland to alleviate the political and economic disruption being caused.

In an address to Dublin City University, Šefčovič said: “These measures would create a type of ‘express lane’ which would substantially facilitate trade between all parties. A win-win situation for all.”

He added that it was "a unique and completely new model for how goods can be moved from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, one that would strengthen opportunities for people and businesses alike".

But the UK has said the offer does not go far enough.

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