EU, UK fail to make progress in resolving N. Ireland dispute
The European Union and the UK failed to make substantial progress in their efforts to resolve a diplomatic dispute over Northern Ireland, with both sides threatening to limit future trade relations.
UK Brexit minister David Frost met with his EU counterpart, Maros Sefcovic, in Brussels Friday in an effort to resolve a standoff over the so-called Northern Ireland protocol, an agreement that allowed the UK to leave the bloc’s single market without creating a hard border on the island of Ireland. The UK is demanding changes to the deal, which it says damages trade in the region.
The dispute not only threatens to revive sectarian tensions in Northern Ireland but also blow up the wider trade deal Britain and the EU signed last year - putting the UK back on track for a “no deal” Brexit. Relations between London and Brussels have already been strained by a separate dispute over fishing.
“We have seen no move at all from the UK side,” Sefcovic told reporters after the meeting. A UK government spokesperson said in an emailed statement that “progress had been limited and that the EU’s proposals did not currently deal effectively with the fundamental difficulties.”
Sefcovic will travel to London on 12 November to continue the discussions and both sides underscored the need for a quick resolution.
UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government has threatened to invoke Article 16 of the protocol, which allows either side to introduce safeguard measures in case of “economic, societal or environmental difficulties.” The EU has weighed terminating its trade deal with the UK if it follows through with the threat, which would lead to the imposition of tariffs, quotas and other trade barriers.
“We’re not going to trigger Article 16 today,” Frost said before the meeting. “But Article 16 is very much on the table.”
Unlike the rest of the UK, Northern Ireland has remained inside the bloc’s single market for goods, meaning that products arriving from the rest of Britain are subject to customs formalities. The EU has offered to reduce customs checks on goods arriving in Northern Ireland by half, and inspections on many food products by 80%.
“We hear a lot about Article 16 at the moment,” Sefcovic said. “Let there be no doubt that triggering Article 16 - to seek the renegotiation of the protocol - would have serious consequences.”
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