Britain's foreign secretary Liz Truss has said there is a deal to be done on the Northern Ireland protocol if both sides focus on practical issues rather than revisiting old arguments. Speaking ahead of a meeting in Brussels on Monday with European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic, she said they had a shared responsibility to protect the peace process.
"Fundamentally this is about peace and stability in Northern Ireland. Whether you voted Leave or Remain, represent the UK or EU, the focus must be on protecting the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement and fixing the protocol," she said. "That is my message in these negotiations. Rather than rerunning past arguments we need to focus on delivering for the people of Northern Ireland, finding practical solutions to problems on the ground and maintaining the integrity of the United Kingdom.
“I look forward to meeting Vice-president Šefcovic again tomorrow to review progress. There is a deal to be done, and we need to make it happen.”
Monday's meeting will be the second round of talks between Ms Truss and Mr Sefcovic since she took charge of Brexit negotiation following David Frost's resignation last month. They met two weeks ago at Ms Truss's grace and favour mansion Chevening House, after which they said they would intensify their efforts to reach agreement.
They spoke by phone last Friday and after Monday’s meeting their officials will continue technical talks that have been running since the Chevening meeting.
At a private meeting with MEPs last Thursday, Mr Sefcovic said that both sides wanted to conclude talks before campaigning begins for May’s Assembly elections in Northern Ireland, setting an informal deadline of the end of February.
He said that the tone of the talks had improved since Ms Truss took over, but that Britain’s demand for a thorough revision of the protocol was unchanged. The EU has offered changes it says would cut up to 80 per cent of animal and food safety checks and reduce customs paperwork by half.
Monday's meeting comes as British lorry drivers have been blaming Brexit for 15km queues that have been building up at the Port of Dover. Britain introduced full customs controls on its border with continental Europe on January 1st, requiring importers to complete customs declarations in real time, prove that the goods are not subject to tariffs and pre-notify the authorities of imports of animal and plant products.
Hauliers have been complaining that it is taking drivers up to 20 minutes to clear checks required by a new Goods Vehicle Movement Service system for exporting goods. The Port of Dover warned that delays could get worse later this year when further checks required by the Brexit deal are implemented.
The British government has postponed the introduction of full procedures for goods coming into Britain from Ireland while negotiations on the protocol continue.