By Claire Gordon • 20 January 2022 • 23:00
Foreign secretary Liz Truss is to travel to Brussels on Monday after setting a new Northern Ireland Protocol deadline for agreeing on a deal with the EU. The new date has been set for the end of February to come up with a compromise on the post-Brexit arrangements for the area.
The two sides have agreed that a window of opportunity for an agreement will close when campaigning starts for May’s elections to the Northern Ireland assembly. Maroš Šefčovič, the EU’s Brexit commissioner, has spoken to MEPs this week and told of a positive tone to the new negotiations with Ms Truss. The Foreign Secretary took over the talks when David Frost resigned in January.
Despite the positive overtones to the pre-briefing talks, Šefčovič has said there has been little in the way of movement in the UK’s negotiations. Sources said the commissioner had been “surprised and concerned” that Truss had regurgitated Frost’s demands for a dispute system similar to that within the trade deal, the complete removal of checks on goods from Great Britain destined for Northern Ireland, and a rethink on the current system of EU approval of subsidies, known in Brussels as state aid, as reported by The Guardian.
Šefčovič has reiterated that the overhaul of the current protocol, which keeps Northern Ireland in the single market and puts a customs border into the Irish Sea is still not possible.
In the face of these concerns, intensive talks have still been ongoing. The EU Commissioner has said progress is down to Ms Truss and whether she wanted to cause a breakdown in the talks for political purposes or not.
There was, Šefčovič said, growing support in the country for the Northern Ireland protocol. The EU has proposed reducing health and safety checks on meat, plant and dairy products by half and customs checks by 80% but Brussels is willing to go further by ensuring that other paperwork could be done via electronic communications to reduce red tape.
Šefčovič said the UK was yet to accept the logic of the EU proposals but that the level of access to British IT databases was improving. He told MEPs he did not expect the UK to trigger article 16, the clause that would see parts of the current arrangements in Northern Ireland suspended.
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