High-level British government sources say technical discussions on 30 areas of disagreement with the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol have led to clear progress on only two issues.
They say there are “about six” other areas in which some progress has been made towards a solution.
The sources say the British government has not yet given up hope that the EU will move significantly over the next few weeks.
The European Union has repeatedly said that the UK has failed to meet a number of key protocol obligations it has signed on to.
Sources say British negotiators have submitted 10 papers covering a range of proposed solutions they believe will reduce the obstacles the protocol creates for businesses in Northern Ireland, but they claim the EU has been slow to get involved.
Sources say an assessment of the negotiations will be made at the June 9 EU-UK Joint Commission meeting.
While new DUP leader Edwin Potts and other unionists insist the protocol should be scrapped entirely, sources say the British government accepts the need for some mechanism to regulate any new trade agreement on the movement of goods between the EU and Northern Ireland.
Someone said, “There has to be some form of protocol, if not this protocol.”
David Frost, the UK’s chief protocol negotiator, was in Northern Ireland yesterday To meet with business representatives and members of the CNR’s Catholic, National, and Republican community.
He has previously met with Protestant, Unitarian, and Loyalist community groups, including the Council of Loyal Communities, which includes representatives of loyalist paramilitary organizations.
Sources say that while representatives of the National Salvation Council have been keen to focus on the opportunities the protocol presents, rather than obstacles, there has been “sympathy” with unionists and loyalists who feel their British identity has been undermined.
“It is clear from the conversations I have had with business and community representatives here today that the way the protocol works presents very significant challenges,” Mr. Frost said afterwards.
“I’ve heard from business groups, as I did last time about how some suppliers from GB are starting to stop sending products to Northern Ireland, we’ve also heard about reduced availability and selection, cancellations of deliveries, product recalls, interference with pet and parcel movements etc. that.
“The protocol relies on support across the community, but this situation risks undermining that. Our number one priority as the UK government is to protect the Belfast Agreement on Good Friday in all its dimensions, north, south, east and west, and this is already an explicit top priority in the protocol itself in the text.
“We hope that the committee will share this view on prioritization, although if this is the case, they are not always as clear about it as they could be.”
Mr Frost said the main issue for the UK was that the EU wanted to treat the regulatory border in the Irish Sea as if it were any other external border, despite protocol commitments to facilitate trade between Britain and Northern Ireland.
He said the British government remained committed to working through the issues with the EU to find a way forward “but progress is limited”.
“We believe that the EU needs to show more common sense and pragmatism, and it is difficult to see the protocol because the current work can be sustainable for a long time,” he added.
“We continue to consider all of our options in fulfilling our primary responsibilities to maintaining peace and prosperity in Northern Ireland.”
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