UK, EU agree to 'intensify' bid to resolve N.Ireland trade row

The talks with the EU were UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss' first on post-Brexit trade in Northern Ireland (AFP/Ben STANSALL) (Ben STANSALL)
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  • Liz Truss
    Liz Truss
    British Conservative Party politician (born 1975)

Britain and the European Union are to intensify efforts to resolve a dispute over post-Brexit trade in Northern Ireland, UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic said after talks on Friday.

In a joint statement, the two described their two-day meeting as "cordial" and said they had agreed to meet again on January 24 after "intensified" talks between their teams, although Truss refused to rule out suspending the agreement.

"We share a desire for a positive relationship between the EU and the UK underpinned by our shared belief in freedom and democracy," they added.

"Now it's time to start taking issues off the table," Sefcovic tweeted after the pair met for the first time at the government's country residence Chevening, in southeast England.

Northern Ireland, which has the UK's only land border with the European Union, has been a major stumbling block in the entire Brexit process since the 2016 referendum.

Truss said she wanted a negotiated solution and that "there is a deal to be done".

"But if we don't make sufficient progress, we will have to look at the alternatives but my absolute desire is to get a deal that works for the people of Northern Ireland," she told the BBC.

Britain has repeatedly said it is prepared to trigger the Northern Ireland agreement's Article 16 suspension clause -- a move the EU has warned could lead to a wider trade war.

The Northern Ireland Protocol was signed separately from the wider 2020 Brexit trade deal between the UK and the EU and aims to avoid a "hard" border on the island of Ireland.

But to keep the border open -- a key plank of a 1998 peace agreement that ended decades of violence over British rule in Northern Ireland -- the province is effectively still in the European single market.

Checks are required for goods heading east-west from mainland Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales) to stop unchecked products heading into the single market via Northern Ireland.

But London has indefinitely suspended implementing those checks, and wants the protocol renegotiated, including the removal of European judicial oversight on disputes.

Brussels has rejected the UK call for the European Court of Justice to be replaced with an international arbitration panel.

Truss' predecessor in the negotiations David Frost in December cautiously welcomed the Commission's proposal to reform EU medicine supply rules but poured cold water on hopes that an overall agreement to end the row had been found.

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