UK & EU engage in ‘constructive’ talks over Northern Ireland trade protocol

UK & EU engage in ‘constructive’ talks over Northern Ireland trade protocol

UK’s Cabinet Minister Michael Gove and European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic is scheduled to meet for the second round of ‘constructive’ talks next week in London over Northern Ireland protocol application row. 

Wednesday talks between EU, UK, and Northern Ireland leaders ended up positively with the UK has asked for a 2-year transition period on protocol’s key elements like checks on food and online shopping delivery entering the bloc nations from Great Britain. Talks were initiated after recent ‘sinister’ threats to staff at port entry led to the suspension of checks. UK and EU leaders have condemned any threats or intimidation of any sort.  

Gove’s asking of the transition period can be seen as taking advantage of protocol’s article 16 triggering by the EU last Friday by attempting to block Covid-19 vaccines from entering the UK. The move by the EU of blocking vaccine entry into Northern Ireland from the bloc had attracted massive criticism and was thus immediately rescinded. Wednesday’s virtual meeting between Gove, Sefcovic, and Northern Ireland’s first minister Arlene Foster and deputy Michelle O’Neill has calmed the escalating crisis to some extent. After row at Belfast and Larne ports, the border officials were taken off their Brexit duties. 

Gove and Sefcovic said in a joint statement, “After a constructive discussion amongst all parties, it was concluded that the UK and the EU would immediately wok intensively to find solutions to outstanding issues. Gove and Sefcovic will keep in close contact as this work progresses, and will meet again next week in London.”

The new committee under the Brexit deal is expected to be set up and convene in the following two weeks to formulate a solution to the current problem. 

In a stern letter to Sefcovic, Gove demanded six big concessions to Northern Ireland protocol, including an extension of three month period for supermarket food supplies checks from the UK to Northern Ireland to January 1, 2023, and to chalk out a permanent solution on chilled meets from the UK. Another extension is asked for current parcel post arrangement from the UK to Northern Ireland for the same time limit. The UK also seeks a common travel area for pets, steel quotas changes, and medical supplies to continue. 

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O’Neill has noted that working of protocol is extremely important and “solutions must be found to support business, to ensure smooth trading operations.” 

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