UK and EU intensify talks on Northern Ireland trade arrangement

Britain and the European Union agreed on Friday to intensify talks in an attempt to reach a compromise over Northern Ireland’s controversial post-Brexit trade arrangements that have soured relations between the two sides.

British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and the European Commissioner for Brexit Maros Sefkovic After their first face-to-face meeting, a joint statement was released praising the “intimate atmosphere” at the mansion in Chevening, Kent.

The tone is very different from last year. Lord David Frost, the Brexit negotiator who resigned in December, has frequently focused on the differences between the two sides and has regularly threatened to suspend Brexit negotiations. Northern Ireland Agreement, the part of the UK’s withdrawal agreement with the EU that governs trade between the UK and the region.

Britain is demanding an overhaul of the protocol, citing it hindering the flow of goods to Northern Ireland and causing political unrest in the region.

Truss and Sefkovic said British and EU officials would hold “enhanced talks” next week, with the UK foreign secretary and the EU’s Brexit commissioner due to meet on January 24.

“What I want is a negotiated solution, and I think there is a deal to be done,” Frost, who oversaw the UK’s negotiations with the EU on the Northern Ireland protocol, resigned after he resigned. “We had constructive talks.”

Truss has previously said she could trigger Article 16 of the protocol to suspend several of its provisions, but she has also put more emphasis than Frost on a compromise with the EU.

“Obviously if we don’t make enough progress, we’re going to have to find alternatives, but I definitely want a deal that works for people,” she added.

People close to Truss and Sefcovic’s talks said officials did not have technical discussions on major issues.Sefcovic say on twitter: “Now is the time to start solving the problem.”

Under the Brexit deal, Northern Ireland remains in the EU’s single market for goods to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland and to preserve the peace process enshrined in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Instead, the Northern Ireland Agreement sets a border in the Irish Sea and requires customs and regulatory checks on goods shipped from the UK to Northern Ireland.

In an attempt to reach a compromise on the deal, the European Commission proposed in October to cut inspections of animal and plant products by up to 80 percent and halve customs paperwork.

But the UK says sending things from Liverpool to Belfast should be as easy as sending from Liverpool to Birmingham.

EU officials say the current negotiations involving Truss and Sefkovic represent a step forward after the process stalled under Frost.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney has called for a compromise on the Northern Ireland protocol as soon as possible, ahead of the dissolution of the region’s decentralized parliament in March and elections on May 5.

“My understanding is that the two sides actually simply outlined their positions,” he told RTÉ radio. “There is no real progress at this stage in finding landing zones, but I don’t think that’s what this meeting is about.

“If possible, we would like to have these issues resolved by the end of February,” he added.

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