EU Says Window Exists to Resolve Northern Ireland Trade Disputes


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The European Union’s post-Brexit negotiator said there is a window to achieve results with the British government on the Northern Ireland dispute after the U.K. sought a joint agreement on a trade issue.

European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic spoke at the College of Europe in Bruges, Belgium, as the EU’s executive arm weighs a request from the U.K. for an extension to the grace period on the movement of chilled meats from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

“I am convinced that there is still a window for productive political dialogue and positive results, particularly in light of the U.K. reaching out to us on chilled meats,” Sefcovic said on Friday.

Sefcovic is due to set up a meeting with U.K. Brexit minister David Frost to discuss the request in detail.

‘Buyer’s Remorse’

Under the terms of the Brexit divorce treaty, chilled meats and fresh sausages would be barred from entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the U.K from July 1. That’s because Northern Ireland must follow EU health and safety rules, which don’t permit the import of such products. The U.K. wants the change deferred to Sept. 30.

Sefcovic cautioned on the possible impact of the U.K. failing to abide by its obligations and continuing to take unilateral action. In that scenario, he said, “I fear a downward spiral in our relations, which would take our joint attention off a truly strategic relationship.”

“And in this case the EU will not be shy in reacting firmly and resolutely to ensure that the letter and the spirit of the protocol are respected,” he said in reference to the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The EU, Sefcovic said, “will not -- and cannot -- accept this delicate balance being unilaterally changed or disapplied because of buyer’s remorse.”

Sefcovic urged a stop to “fighting a supposed zero-sum game,” and instead called for building a new kind of cooperation. “For that, we need to finally move on from Brexit once and for all, and forge a path toward a shared future between two strong, strategic partners.”

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has accused the bloc of being inflexible over the situation, and has threatened to suspend parts of the Brexit divorce agreement if the EU doesn’t change its approach to checks on goods entering Northern Ireland.

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