The EU says ‘serious progress’ is needed next week on the Northern Ireland protocol

Updated 16 hours ago

The European Union has said that a «serious path» is needed in the negotiations on the Northern Ireland Protocol next week.

But European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic said there had been a «change of tone» from the UK during the latest round of negotiations.

This comes after the UK government appeared to soften its stance on the use of the exit clause, describing Article 16 as a «legitimate part of the Protocol’s provisions» while emphasizing «a preference for finding a consensual way forward».

At a press conference following the latest round of talks in London today, Sefcovic said: «We can and must come to an agreed solution that Northern Ireland really deserves.

«And that’s also why I’ve been very vocal that we need to make serious progress on next week’s track.

This is especially important in relation to the issue of medicines.

«The long-term continuous supply of medicine from Great Britain to Northern Ireland is the issue of protocol on everyone’s minds in Northern Ireland.»

He also said there had been a «change of tone» from Brexit Secretary David Frost in the fourth round of talks with the UK government.

“I acknowledge and welcome the change in tone of discussion with David Frost today, and I hope this leads to tangible results for the people of Northern Ireland,” Sefcovic said.

He told reporters that the UK needed to «respond in kind to the big step the European Union has taken» on the Northern Ireland Protocol.

He said he was «convinced that the drug issue can serve as a blueprint for how the remaining remaining issues are dealt with and resolved» between the UK and the trade bloc.

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After the talks, a UK government spokesperson said: «Lord Frost has indicated that there are still significant gaps to be bridged between the UK’s and the EU’s positions.

He noted that, as set out in the House of Lords on 10 November, the UK’s preference remained to find a consensual way forward, but that Article 16 safeguards were a legitimate part of the Protocol’s provisions.

Lord Frost also stressed the need to address the full range of issues identified by the UK in the course of the discussions, if a comprehensive and lasting solution that supports the Belfast Agreement (Good Friday) and favors Northern Ireland is to be found.

«In this context, although the talks have so far been conducted in a constructive spirit, Lord Frost stressed that in order to make progress, it was important to bring new energy and impetus to the discussions.»

reaction

Sinn Fein chairwoman Mary Lou MacDonald said this afternoon that the outstanding issues around the protocol «could be overcome if the British government worked in partnership with the European Union».

However, DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson urged the British government today to honor its commitment to protecting Northern Ireland’s place in the UK’s internal market.

Today he welcomed «a more positive tone from the European Union», but urged «more focus now on finding a solution that deals with the problems created by this totally unacceptable border on the Irish Sea».

«The government has made clear that the conditions have already been met to trigger Article 16, and that the UK take unilateral action to address the difficulties arising from the protocol and replace it with new arrangements that protect Northern Ireland’s place within the inner UK,» he said.

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“That is the main commitment that the UK government has made in the new contract, the New Approach Agreement and we need to see that respected, either in an agreement with the European Union that removes this border on the Irish Sea, or in a unilateral action by the UK government which leads to to Article 16 and to fully restore Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom’s internal market.

«Time is of the essence, it’s time to focus now, we need to see solutions, a bit of rhetoric and let’s get to where we need to get to, which is to remove the Irish Sea border and completely restore Northern Ireland’s place within the UK internal market.»

Speaking to the media in Co Armagh after a meeting with a logistics company, MacDonald called for «less brinkmanship, less bad faith and aggressiveness on the part of the British government».

«We want them to work in partnership with European institutions,» MacDonald said.

“I must say our analysis is that the difficulty came from the British government, which considers Ireland, and Northern Ireland in particular, collateral damage in the Brexit game. That is not good enough.

“The issues that have arisen with the Protocol have answers, they have solutions, and I think the European Commission has moved quite a bit to provide those answers.

“The ball is now firmly in the court of Boris Johnson and his government and we need to see them finally act in partnership, in good faith and in good faith.

«If these things prevail, we can find the answers, not just for medicine, but for all other outstanding issues.»

MacDonald said there was «no reason» for the British government to trigger Article 16.

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«Negotiations on the Withdrawal Agreement, New Trade Arrangements and Protocol continued until the eleventh hour, and it happened because the British government made the decision to negotiate in this way, until the last minute,» she said.

“There is no reason to activate Article 16. We have a joint committee, and we have the mechanisms to deal with issues as they arise.

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«The evidence is now clear, across Ireland and in Northern Ireland, that the vast majority of people and businesses understand the need for the protocol and want it to work.»

The next set of talks will take place in Brussels on Friday, 19 November.

The UK has set a December deadline to resolve the renegotiation of the protocol.

In October, the European Union introduced a series of amendments to the agreement, which are intended to maintain free trade on the island of Ireland without a hard border.

The agreement effectively keeps Northern Ireland within the EU’s single market, which means that commercial goods must be checked on arrival from the UK mainland.

The European Union has offered to cut 80% of these checks with the aim of helping Northern Ireland’s businesses and economy.

But the UK government is seeking further amendments to the agreement, including eliminating the role of judges in the European Court of Justice (ECJ) as arbitrators in disputes.

On the role of the European Court of Justice, Sefkovic stressed that «certainly nothing has changed» in the EU’s position.

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