EU Welcomes Lord Frost Dialling Down The Rhetoric In Northern Ireland Protocol Talks
The European Union has welcomed a shift in tone from the UK in its talks over the Northern Ireland Protocol after several weeks of tension and heated words between the two sides.
Maros Sefcovic, the European Commission Vice President, on Friday said that while major disagreements remained on how to implement the treaty for Northern Ireland, he welcomed the "changing tone of the discussion" with his UK counterpart Lord Frost, who handles the government's post-Brexit relations with the EU.
Speaking in London after meeting Frost this morning, Sefcovic said "change in tonality" from the UK side was a positive development after growing expectations in Brussels that Boris Johnson was preparing to trigger Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Doing so would suspend parts of the treaty, that was agreed by the two sides as part of Brexit negotiations, and lead to an escalation in recent tensions between Downing Street and Brussels.
In recent weeks, both Frost and the Prime Minister have repeatedly warned that the conditions for invoking Article 16 have already been met. However, Frost this week stressed to the House of Lords that finding a consensual way forward with Brussels was the government's preference.
"When it comes to Article 16, to be quite honest, it has come up in communication between the EU and the UK government too often," Sefcovic said this afternoon.
Sefcovic said the two sides needed to make "serious headway" when talks resume in Brussels next week, however, especially on the issue of medicine moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
A UK spokesperson said in today's meeting with Sefcovic, Lord Frost stressed the need for new "energy" in talks, with negotiations set to intensify next week when they resume in Brussels.
"Lord Frost noted that there remained significant gaps to be bridged between the UK and EU positions," the spokesperson said in a statement.The Northern Ireland Protocol has been the source of months of tension between the UK and Brussels since it came into effect at the beginning of this year.
The treaty was designed to avoid a contentious hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, and did so by keeping Northern Ireland within the EU's trading rules.
But the government argues it is causing an unacceptable level of disruption to trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, and is pushing for the text to be fundamentally rewritten.
Brussels says it is ready to make major changes to the treaty and last month offered to remove swathes of checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea. The bloc is refusing to give in to several UK demands, however, particularly its call for the role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to be scrapped.
Sefcovic today said the EU's position on the ECJ had "definitely" not changed.
"The European Court of Justice is the guardian of the Single Market rules – these are the Single Market rules of the EU and Northern Ireland. The EU needs to protect the integrity of the Single Market."
On Thursday Louise Haigh, the Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, urged the Prime Minister to step back from the brink of triggering Article 16, warning that it would unleash "poisonous instability" in Northern Ireland.
Speaking in Belfast, Haigh said suspending parts of the treaty would only "prolong and deepen" uncertainty in the province — not abate it — and that such a move was opposed by most communities and businesses there.
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