LONDON (Reuters) -Britain's Brexit minister David Frost said on Friday the European Union had made encouraging moves towards resolving a dispute over Northern Irish trade, part of the Brexit divorce settlement, but said it still needed to do more.
The EU on Wednesday offered London a package of measures to ease the transit of goods to the British-ruled province after complaints from businesses that the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol was hampering its trade with the rest of the United Kingdom.
"I think the EU has definitely made an effort in pushing beyond where they typically go in these areas and we're quite encouraged by that," Frost said ahead of a meeting with the European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic in Brussels.
"But obviously there is still quite a big gap. And that's what we've got to work through today and in the future."
The protocol effectively kept Northern Ireland in the EU's customs union and single market for goods after Brexit.
Its aim was to prevent a hard border between Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland, which all sides fear could lead to a return to the violence which was largely ended by a 1998 peace accord.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson signed up to the protocol as part of his Brexit agreement in 2020, but has since argued that it was agreed in haste and was no longer working for the people of Northern Ireland. Frost has for months called for it to be re-written, something the EU is unwilling to do.
In an earlier interview with Politico, Frost made clear the EU’s latest proposals as they stood were ultimately unacceptable as London wanted a major concession from Brussels on the role of European Court of Justice oversight in Northern Ireland.
"... there needs to be significant change if we are to get an agreed solution," Frost told Politico.
"All I can say is the governance issue needs to be addressed seriously and if the EU are willing to have a conversation about that on which they move off existing positions obviously we will be happy to have that conversation," he said.
The EU says it has made major concessions towards finding a solution to the problem. A German government spokesperson said on Friday the protocol could not be renegotiated.
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge and Michael Holden in London and Christian Kraemer in Berlin, Editing by Paul Sandle and Gareth Jones)