No end to the Brexit deadlock as Britain and EU agree to continue ‘scoping work’ for solutions to Northern Ireland Protocol row despite high hopes today’s talks would generate a breakthrough
- Foreign Secretary James Cleverly holds fresh talks with EU’s Maros Sefcovic
- Pair discuss ongoing efforts to end the bitter Northern Ireland Protocol row
- They agree to continue ‘scoping work’ on a solution to the Brexit trade dispute
Britain and the EU today agreed to continue ‘scoping work’ on a solution to the bitter row over Northern Ireland as the latest talks failed to provide a breakthrough.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly spoke with European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic via video link to discuss progress on ending the dispute over post-Brexit trade rules.
But a joint statement released after their talks shed little light on whether an end to the Northern Ireland Protocol row was any closer.
It read: ‘The two sides discussed the range of existing challenges over the last two years and the need to find solutions together to tackle comprehensively the real-life concerns of all communities in Northern Ireland and protect both Northern Ireland’s place in the UK’s internal market and the integrity of the EU’s single market.
‘They agreed that this scoping work for potential solutions should continue in a constructive and collaborative spirit, taking careful account of each other’s legitimate interests.’
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic agreed to continue ‘scoping work’ on a solution to the Northern Ireland Protocol row
Today’s talks between Mr Cleverly and Mr Sefcovic came just a week after the pair’s previous discussions, held in London, led to a significant boost to hopes of resolving the Protocol row.
Last Monday’s agreement on a data-sharing deal permitted Brussels access to UK IT systems and means the EU will be allowed to monitor the flow of goods into Northern Ireland.
Such an agreement was seen as key to a wider solution to the Protocol dispute and raised expectations of a further breakthrough at this week’s talks.
Yet, despite those growing hopes, Downing Street had earlier played down expectations of an imminent breakthrough.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman admitted that ‘gaps’ remained between the UK and EU over the Protocol.
‘They will continue to look at any progress that’s being made,’ the spokesman said ahead of Mr Cleverly and Mr Sefcovic’s talks.
‘But as we’ve said on a number of occasions, there are still gaps in our position that need to be resolved in order to address the full range of problems created by the Protocol.’
Mr Cleverly and Mr Sefcovic were once again be joined in their discussions today by Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris.
The pair’s talks in London last week led to an agreement on a data-sharing deal, which is seen as key to a wider solution to the Protocol dispute
Mr Cleverly and Mr Sefcovic were once again be joined in their discussions today by Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris
Unionists are bitterly opposed to how the Northern Ireland Protocol is currently being implemented
Mr Heaton-Harris has a legal duty to call fresh elections in Northern Ireland if a power-sharing executive isn’t restored at Stormont by Thursday.
It has been suggested he could once again delay calling Stormont elections for a number of weeks in order to give more time for the Protocol talks between the UK and EU to reach a resolution.
The DUP, who are boycotting the Stormont institutions as part of their protest against the Protocol, have shown little appetite for re-entering power-sharing until the UK-EU talks reach a conclusion.
Speculation that a Protocol agreement might be near had mounted in recent days after both Mr Cleverly and Mr Heaton-Harris visited Belfast last week.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer also made his own trip to Northern Ireland.
Barry Andrews, an Irish member of the European Parliament, said there was an ‘expectation’ that a ‘political declaration’ could emerge out of today’s talks between Mr Cleverly and Mr Sefcovic.
‘Not an internationally binding agreement, but a political declaration and framework for the way forward,’ the Fianna Fail politician told Times Radio last night.
‘We had some positive announcements last week… and generally I think there’s been a build-up of trust between the parties.’
A UK Government source said: ‘We’d all prefer a negotiated solution but significant gaps remain.
‘It is the conversations with the Commission that will either bring that about or not.
‘Nobody should be under any illusions that this is complex and difficult but the desire to work together on a solution seems to be there.’