U.K.’s Brexit Minister Sees ‘Big Gap’ With EU in Latest Talks
(Bloomberg) -- U.K. Brexit Minister David Frost said there is “still quite a big gap” with the European Union on the future of Northern Ireland, after the bloc presented proposals to fix issues with the post-Brexit settlement.
“The EU have definitely made an effort in pushing beyond where they typically go in these areas and we’re quite encouraged by that,” Frost said in a pooled TV clip on Friday from Brussels, where he is meeting European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic. “There’s a lot of work to do because there are gaps between us.”
Britain and the EU have just started a new round of intensive talks to find a compromise on Northern Ireland, after the U.K. blamed the Brexit divorce treaty for disrupting trade in the region and inflaming political tensions.
Frost has proposed amendments to the legal text of the so-called Northern Ireland protocol, while the EU has suggested practical fixes of its own. Sefcovic opened the door to talks by offering wide-ranging concessions, including a proposal to cut the number of customs checks on goods arriving in Northern Ireland by half.
The two sides are expected to hold talks for the next few weeks, with Frost saying he wants to reach a resolution by November. If an agreement can’t be found, Frost has said the U.K. is prepared to unilaterally suspend parts of the Brexit agreement. Such a move would likely trigger retaliatory action from the EU.
A senior EU diplomat said the the bloc will have to prepare to “go big” in case the U.K. acts unilaterally. Such a response could include the threat of tariffs or restricting British participation in EU programs, the diplomat said.
One key potential flashpoint remains the European Court of Justice, which has a role in overseeing the Northern Ireland protocol. While Frost called for ECJ oversight to end, that was not addressed in the EU proposals revealed this week.
“The governance arrangements as we have them don’t work,” Frost said. “We need to take the court out of the system as it is now and we need to find a better way forward.”
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