Dublin seeks to ease Brexit tensions as talks resume in London

Sefcovic set to tell British that removal of ECJ role in protocol is ‘unattainable’ goal

The European Union’s negotiator Maros Sefcovic will be in London for talks with his UK counterpart  David Frost. Photograph: VIRGINIA MAYO/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

The European Union’s negotiator Maros Sefcovic will be in London for talks with his UK counterpart David Frost. Photograph: VIRGINIA MAYO/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

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The Government has sought to ease Brexit tensions, insisting there is still time for a deal on the contentious Northern Ireland protocol, ahead of renewed talks on Friday.

The European Union’s negotiator Maros Sefcovic is expected to tell his British counterpart David Frost that the negotiations will fail unless the British Government drops its “unattainable” demand over the role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

He is to warn that Downing Street needs to “take a step” towards the EU for the talks to be “meaningful”.

The meeting in London comes against the backdrop of British warnings in recent weeks that it could trigger article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol.

Sources in Dublin said that back channel efforts aimed at finding solutions to the impasse are ongoing.

Senior Government figures struck a positive note in public comments on Thursday amid indications that Britain has stepped back from triggering article 16.

Taoiseach Micheál Martin told Today FM: “I do believe that in the last number of days there’s a sense of an easing of tension and dialling down the momentum towards invoking article 16 of the protocol.”

Separately, speaking in the Dáil, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said efforts will continue to “dissuade the British government from triggering article 16 which I believe would be a really serious, negative and retrograde step”.

He said he had spoken this week to one of US president Joe Biden’s most senior advisers and also to members of Congress attending the Cop26 summit in Glasgow including Democratic member of congress Brendan Boyle.

Mr Coveney said: “The main focus is to try to encourage progress” in the discussions between Mr Sefcovic and Mr Frost.

He said he had listened to what Mr Frost had to say in the House of Lords on Wednesday and added: “I think there is still some time to try to ensure that negotiations and partnership can work.”

‘Stay calm’

Mr Frost told the House of Lords that article 16 would be Britain’s only option if talks with the EU failed but he promised to continue to negotiate for a number of weeks.

He urged the EU to “stay calm and keep things in proportion”.

There is concern in Brussels that the British Government has already decided to trigger article 16 in the coming weeks.

Retaliatory actions are being prepared with options up to suspending the trade deal agreed last year believed to be under consideration.

In October, the EU offered to drastically reduce the number of checks on goods coming from Great Britain to Northern Ireland in recognition of the political and economic disruption being caused. But the UK is insisting that the protocol needs a more fundamental redrafting including the removal of the European Court of Justice from its role as arbiter of EU law.

“We think that the objectives set out by the UK are unattainable,” said a senior EU official. “The UK position is that the role of the EU’s institution needs to go... As long as that remains the UK position, I don’t see what we can do.” – Additional reporting: Guardian

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