The minister said agreement on the Northern Ireland protocol could come within weeks

European Affairs Minister Thomas Byrne said late Thursday that the dispute between Britain and the European Union over Northern Ireland trade could be resolved within weeks to end economic uncertainty in the region.

«I think we have all the tools at our disposal to reach an agreement with respect to Northern Ireland in the coming weeks,» Byrne told reporters on the sidelines of an EU summit in Brussels.

He was echoing previous statements by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who said during a visit to Northern Ireland that the dispute needed to be resolved «very quickly» because it affected people’s lives and businesses.

«I totally agree with the prime minister that this needs to be resolved very quickly. This is urgent. Northern Ireland desperately needs stability, urgently needs certainty in terms of its rules and regulations. And it badly needs investment,» Byrne said.

The European Union last week presented London with a package of measures to facilitate the transit of goods to the north after complaints from companies that the so-called Northern Ireland protocol was hindering their trade with the rest of the United Kingdom.

The protocol effectively kept Northern Ireland in the EU’s customs union and single market for goods after Brexit.

European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic refused to give a specific deadline for the conclusion of the EU-Britain talks, but indicated a strong preference for ending them by the end of 2021.

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