EU Sees Better Tone in Brexit Talks as U.K. Warns Time is Short
The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator said there was an improved tone in the latest round of negotiations related to trade in Northern Ireland, even as the U.K. repeated a threat to walk away from its post-Brexit commitments if a resolution couldn’t be found.
The EU’s Maros Sefcovic met with his British counterpart, David Frost, in London on Friday and said the two would have another meeting in Brussels on Nov. 19.
“I acknowledge and welcome the change in tone of the discussion with David Frost today and I hope this will lead to tangible results for the people in Northern Ireland,” Sefcovic told reporters. “I raised forcefully that we need to make serious headway in the course of next week.”
Frost said “there remained significant gaps to be bridged” and that “it was important to bring new energy and impetus to the discussions,” according to a U.K. government spokesperson.
The two are discussing how to resolve differences over the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol, the agreement that allowed the U.K. to leave the EU’s single market without creating a hard border on the island of Ireland. Under the deal, goods moving into Northern Ireland from the rest of the U.K. are subject to customs checks if they are at risk of being later moved into the EU.
Britain is demanding changes to the accord, which the government says has inhibited trade between different parts of the U.K.’s own single market.
Frost on Friday repeated a threat to trigger Article 16 of the protocol, which allows either side to introduce safeguard measures in case of “economic, societal or environmental difficulties.”
The U.K. Brexit minister told Sefcovic in the meeting that “it remained the U.K.’s preference to find a consensual way forward, but that Article 16 safeguards were a legitimate part of the protocol’s provisions,” according to the spokesperson.
The EU is weighing its options in the event the U.K. triggers Article 16, with some member states pushing for the EU to weigh terminating all or parts of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, the deal struck at the end of last year establishing tariff-free commerce. This means the bloc would be able to impose duties on British goods as soon as nine months after giving notification.
Other EU options range from infringement procedures to increasing border checks on goods moving between the two regions.
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