NI Protocol talks: UK says gaps still remain and Article 16 remains a legitimate part of the agreement

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After the latest talks with the EU today, the UK government says that “significant gaps” remain to be bridged over the NI Protocol and that Article 16 - which can suspend problematic parts of the deal - remains a legitimate part of the agreement.

However European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic said after the meeting that the EU had not changed its position on the jurisdiction of the European Court over the NI Protocol - something of deep concern to unionists.

Following talks with the EU today, a UK Government spokesperson said: “Lord Frost and EU Commission Vice-President Sefcovic met today in London to consider the state of play in discussions on the Northern Ireland Protocol.

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“Lord Frost noted that there remained significant gaps to be bridged between the UK and EU positions. He noted that, as set out to the House of Lords on November 10, it remained the UK’s preference to find a consensual way forward, but that Article 16 safeguards were a legitimate part of the protocol’s provisions.

Lord David Frost says gaps still remain, after the latest talks on the NI Protocol with the EU.Lord David Frost says gaps still remain, after the latest talks on the NI Protocol with the EU.
Lord David Frost says gaps still remain, after the latest talks on the NI Protocol with the EU.

“Lord Frost also underlined the need to address the full range of issues the UK had identified in the course of discussions, if a comprehensive and durable solution was to be found that supported the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement and was in the best interests of Northern Ireland.

“In this context, although talks had so far been conducted in a constructive spirit, Lord Frost underlined that in order to make progress, it was important to bring new energy and impetus to discussions.

“Accordingly, intensified talks will take place between teams in Brussels next week on all issues, giving particular attention to medicines and customs issues. Lord Frost and the vice-president will meet at the end of the week to consider progress.”

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BBC Political Editor Laura Kuenssberg reported today that “unless something very unexpected happens, or the negotiators and politicians on both sides have personality transplants, it seems like Article 16 will be introduced before too long.”

However European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic said there had been a “change in tone” from Brexit Minister Lord Frost in the fourth round of talks held today.

Speaking at a press conference, Mr Sefcovic said: “I acknowledge and welcome the change in tone of discussion with David Frost today, and I hope this will lead to tangible results for the people in Northern Ireland.”

He told reporters the UK needed to “reciprocate the big move the EU has made” on the Northern Ireland Protocol.

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However he said the EU had not changed its position over UK concerns about the European Court of Justice retaining jurisdiction over Northern Ireland in relation to the issues.

European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic said he raised “forcefully” that “serious headway” needs to be made in negotiations next week – stressing the importance of medicines.

He said: “We can and must arrive at the agreed solution that Northern Ireland truly deserves. That is also why I raised forcefully that we need to make serious headway in the course of next week.

“This is particularly important as regards the issue of medicines. An uninterrupted long-term supply of medicines from Great Britain to Northern Ireland is the protocol-related issue on everyone’s mind in Northern Ireland.”

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Mr Sefcovic said: “I stand by my commitment to do whatever it takes to address this issue in line with what industry tells us. I prefer to have a joint solution with the UK Government but if we are to amend our own EU legislation – something we are committed to do – we need to find this solution quickly.

“We will therefore intensify our talks next week.”

European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic said the European Union was “working around the clock” to find a solution in the Northern Ireland Protocol talks.

At a press briefing at Europe House on Friday, he said: “The EU, for its part, is working around the clock to deliver such solutions and stability and predictability to Northern Ireland.

“David Frost and I will meet again in Brussels next Friday.”

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European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic said: “I’m convinced the the issue of medicines could be a blueprint for how to approach and solve together the remaining outstanding issues.

“So next week we will also discuss other issues including significant reduction of customs-related red tape with a view to making serious progress.

“I do hope that practical solution will prevail over any temptation at political calculation.”

European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic, in his closing remark answering the final question of the press conference, said: “On the European court, on our side definitely nothing’s changed.”

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Maros Sefcovic said key areas of contention between the EU and UK – such as on medicines – could be solved as early as next week.

He told a press conference that there were areas that were “actually quite low-hanging fruit” in the negotiations over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Mr Sefcovic said: “And I believe that if our experts put their mind to it, they can actually resolve it within a week, I really believe so, because we are so close.”

He said he hoped that would put “new momentum” into discussions which would “hopefully open up other doors and lead us to success”.

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Maros Sefcovic said Brussels was prepared to look at “any issue” within the protocol as part of efforts to reach agreement, with the talks next week to focus on the issues around medicines and customs.

The European Commission vice-president told reporters at a press briefing: “We are ready to look at any issue which is within the protocol.

“I am a very practical man and I’ve done a lot of this type of negotiations and my experience tells me that if you want to have success at the end of the negotiations, we need a stocktaking of what the problems are, we should try to solve them one by one.

“We should take away problems from the table and not bring new ones to an already very complicated stack of issues.

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“Therefore, I’m glad that today with David Frost we agreed that we should focus like a laser beam next week on medicines and I proposed also to focus on customs issues.

“Because we, as I’ve already informed you, are ready to look at all issues on how to reduce the customs checks by 50%, how to reduce sanitary and phytosanitary controls by 80%, how to create express lanes for the products between GB and Northern Ireland – if they are destined for Northern Ireland – and a whole host of other issues which I think needs to be translated into the concrete legal text and possible decisions.

“I think we’ve already done a lot of these circular discussions, debates and we have to focus on how concretely we are going to address this issue and I’m glad that we agreed this should be our priority for next week.”


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Ben Lowry