‘Deal to be done’ on Northern Ireland protocol, says Truss

Coveney foresees ‘landing zone’ over next two months if talks stay on track

British foreign secretary Liz Truss, speaking after meeting with European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic has said there is a "deal to be done" with the EU over the Northern Ireland protocol. Video: Reuters

 

Britain and the European Union have agreed to intensify talks over the Northern Ireland protocol following a meeting between their chief negotiators that both sides described as cordial.

UK foreign secretary Liz Truss hosted European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic at her grace-and-favour mansion at Chevening in Kent in their first face-to-face meeting since she took over the Brexit brief from David Frost last month.

“We share a desire for a positive relationship between the UK and the EU underpinned by our shared belief in freedom and democracy,” they said in a joint statement after the meeting.

Ms Truss said she wanted to make progress on resolving problems with the implementation of the protocol and she expressed confidence that she and Mr Sefcovic could find agreement.

“What I want is a negotiated solution. I think there is a deal to be done. We have had constructive talks over the last day,” she said.

“We are now going to go into intensive negotiations to work towards a negotiated solution to sort out these very real issues for the people of Northern Ireland.”

Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said he would like to see the EU-UK dispute over the Northern Ireland protocol resolved by end of February so the issue does not dominate the run-up to Northern Ireland’s elections in May.

Mr Coveney said the meeting between Ms Truss and Mr Sefcovic marked a “reset” in personal relationships between the two negotiating teams ahead of the restarted discussions, putting them “in a better place that we have seen in for a while”.

Genuine concerns

Mr Coveney said the EU was “very serious” about trying to find “pragmatic and flexible” solutions that take on board ”the genuine concerns” raised by people in the North.

“If both sides work on that basis, there is a landing zone that can be agreed over the next six or eight weeks,” he told RTÉ’s News at One radio programme.

Negotiating teams will meet for “intensified talks” next week, while Ms Truss and Mr Sefcovic will meet again on January 24th.

Ms Truss has not withdrawn the British threat to unilaterally suspend parts of the protocol by triggering article 16 but she said that was not her preferred route.

“Clearly if we don’t make sufficient progress we will have to look at the alternatives, but my absolute desire is to get a deal that works for the people of Northern Ireland,” she said.

Sources close to the talks said Ms Truss and Mr Sefcovic discussed a range of issues surrounding Britain’s relationship with the EU alongside their talks on the protocol.

Mr Coveney said the triggering of article 16 suspending parts of the protocol, which Ms Truss has threatened if the UK fails to secure concessions from the EU, would be “hugely damaging to the relationships that we are now trying to build. The focus will be on negotiation, compromise and pragmatic solutions to real problems.”