Further talks on protocol scheduled for Brussels on Friday

UK government says more work needed ‘to see if the gaps can be bridged’ after EU move

Britain’s Minister of State for EU Relations David Frost, pictured at the recent Conservative Party Conference, will travel to Brussels on Friday for further talks on the Northern Ireland protocol. Photograph: Paul Ellis / AFP via Getty Images

Britain’s Minister of State for EU Relations David Frost, pictured at the recent Conservative Party Conference, will travel to Brussels on Friday for further talks on the Northern Ireland protocol. Photograph: Paul Ellis / AFP via Getty Images

 

Britain’s Brexit minister David Frost will travel to Brussels on Friday for talks with his European Union counterpart Maros Sefcovic, a day after their negotiating teams met in London.

In a statement announcing the talks spokesperson for the UK government said: “We welcome the considerable effort made by Vice President Sefcovic and his team to address the issues that have arisen on the Protocol.

“We are studying the proposals positively and constructively. Our officials are working closely with their EU counterparts to understand the detail.

“Nevertheless it is clear there is still a substantial gap between our two positions. Accordingly there is much work to do. Both we and the EU now have proposals on the table.

“We need to discuss them intensively in the days to come to see if the gaps can be bridged and a solution found which delivers the significant change needed.”

The two sides have agreed to enter intensive negotiations after the European Commission published far-reaching proposals to change how the Northern Ireland protocol is implemented.

The Commission’s proposals do not address Britain’s demand that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and other European institutions should no longer have a role in policing the protocol.

British health secretary Sajid Javid said on Thursday that the issue remained an important one, although he stopped short of describing it as a deal-breaker.

“Looking forward there should not be a role for ECJ in any part of the UK — that includes Northern Ireland,” he said.

The EU has ruled out rewriting the text of the protocol and its ambassador to London Joao Vale de Almeida said there was no question of removing the oversight role of the ECJ.

“We went to the limits of what we can do to address the problems of Northern Ireland because we care for Northern Ireland. These problems were caused by Brexit,” he told the BBC.

“There is no single market without the European Court of Justice. It’s the referee of the single market.”

Conservative MPs have welcomed the EU’s concessions on the protocol as evidence of the success of Lord Frost’s negotiating style.

But Welsh first minister Mark Drakeford said the government should accept responsibility for the agreement it negotiated.

“I don’t think it’s helpful when UK ministers make hardlined speeches drawing red lines criticising the deal that they themselves had signed,” he said.

“So from a Welsh point of view, what we’ve always asked for is for people to be around the table, for people to be pragmatic, for people to be looking for where they can agree, rather than constantly setting out red lines about where they are not prepared to agree.”

‘Respect the deals’

Speaking to the BBC’s The View programme on Thursday evening, Mr Sefcovic said all sides “have to respect the deals we have signed which became international law instruments” and the EU was “ready to discuss everything” but was “not ready to renegotiate the protocol”.

In regard to the European Court of Justice Mr Sefcovic said he “didn’t hear about this issue at all” from business leaders and stakeholders in civic society and it appeared “very late in July in [THE]Command Paper of [THE]UK government and we had already agreement on the protocol for more than a year at that time”.

“We do not see how we can have the access to the single market without European Court of Justice oversight,” he said.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin and the SDLP said they had had “positive” and “useful” meetings with Mr Sefcovic on Thursday.

Sinn Féin has tabled a motion seeking a recall of the North’s Assembly to demonstrate support for the protocol.

The Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O’Neill said she welcomed Mr Sefcovic’s “intention to move at pace in the negotiations in the coming weeks and also his commitment to stay engaged with all stakeholders here”.

The SDLP leader Colum Eastwood called on Mr Donaldson to “withdraw his threat to collapse devolved government” in the North over the protocol.

“Unionism has achieved its goals, there is no further price to be extracted. Continuing to make undeliverable demands around the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice is a hiding to nothing,” Mr Eastwood said.

Meanwhile a meeting of the North South Ministerial Council (NSMC) went ahead on Thursday after the First Minister, the DUP’s Paul Givan said he agreed to the agenda of Thursday’s meeting which was in line with his party’s position which allows for meetings on health issues.

The DUP has been boycotting north-south meetings in protest at the protocol.

A £1billion peace funding package for Northern Ireland was approved at the meeting.

Additional reporting - PA.