Brexit negotiations to end deadlock over North’s special trade status gather pace

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has urged the UK and EU to “turn the corner” and fix the damage done to relations in rows over Brexit.

nother meeting between UK Brexit minister David Frost and European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic in Brussels yesterday raised hopes of a breakthrough on Northern Ireland’s special trade status.

After that meeting Mr Frost said there was the potential to “generate momentum” in talks over the Northern Ireland Protocol.

He said the UK wanted to “secure a solution based on consensus”, after his cabinet colleague Michael Gove earlier appeared to row back on the threat to trigger Article 16.

Brussels officials said negotiations appeared to be gathering pace, with Mr Sefcovic welcoming the “change in tone” from the UK and calling for “joint tangible solutions” to be found within the terms of the protocol while Mr Frost described the talks as “intensive and constructive”.

“There is the potential to generate some momentum in our discussions,” the UK Brexit minister said.

But he also warned that “significant gaps remain across most issues” and arged that “significant change” was required.

Mr Frost also said triggering Article 16, which would suspend elements of the post-Brexit arrangements, remained an option.

He said progress was made in getting British medicines into Northern Ireland but no solution was reached yet.

Mr Frost said “substantive progress” was made on customs and food product checks relating to goods moving from Britain to Northern Ireland.

Mr Sefcovic said it was time to switch to “a result-oriented mode” and to “deliver on the issues” raised by stakeholders in Northern Ireland.

“It is essential that the recent change in tone now leads to joint tangible solutions in the framework of the protocol,” he said.

Earlier, Mr Gove expressed confidence that talks can progress without the need for the UK to trigger Article 16. But he did not entirely rule out using the mechanism.

Prior to the latest talks with Mr Frost, Commissioner Sefcovic told a conference at Dublin City University that the post-Brexit trade deal was “intrinsically linked” to settling the Withdrawal Agreement, which includes the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Speaking after a meeting of government leaders from Britain and Ireland in Cardiff, Mr Martin said both sides must move on from the dispute and cooperate on tackling other crucial issues such as climate change.

Mr Gove, London’s representative at the British-Irish Council meeting in Cardiff, said progress on negotiations over the Northern Ireland Protocol can be made without triggering the emergency brake that is Article 16.

“It’s always possible that Article 16 may require to be invoked, we’re confident that we’ll be able to make progress without it,” said Mr Gove, a former Brexit minister.

Also speaking after the meeting in Cardiff, the Taoiseach was asked why UK-EU relations were so poor five years on from Brexit.

He said the “underlying reason” was the “historic nature” of Brexit and the length of time the UK had been a member of the EU.

“There’s now a need to turn the corner in the relationship.

“And by that I mean the macro geopolitical issues are such that we need the European Union and United Kingdom in alignment, working together on the big issues that affect the globe,” the Taoiseach said. 

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