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Patience ‘very thin’ as EU threatens retaliation over Northern Ireland Protocol

Brexit minister David Frost accused the EU of taking a ‘purist’ approach to the implementation of the Protocol.

The two sides met today for more than three hours
The two sides met today for more than three hours
Image: PA

Updated Wed 4:37 PM

THE EU HAS warned it is at “a crossroads in our relationship with the UK” and “patience is very, very, very thin” as the two sides failed to make any breakthroughs on issues surrounding the Northern Ireland Protocol.

Talks between European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic and Brexit minister David Frost, aimed at ending the deadlock over the implementation of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement in Northern Ireland, ended without significant progress today.

Following a three-and-a-half hour meeting with European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic, Brexit minister David Frost said they had had a “frank and honest” discussion and had agreed to continue the negotiations.

“There weren’t any breakthroughs. There aren’t any breakdowns either and we’re going to carry on talking,” he said.

The meeting took place against the backdrop of continuing tensions over checks on goods moving to Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK as required under the terms of the Northern Ireland Protocol in the agreement.

Frost refused to rule out the prospect that the UK could unilaterally delay the implementation of checks on chilled meats – due to come in at the end of the month – if there was no agreement before then.

Ahead of the meeting, Sefcovic had raised the prospect that such a move could trigger a trade war, saying the EU would respond “firmly and resolutely” if the UK failed to meet its international treaty obligations.

Frost said: “Obviously we did discuss that subject amongst many others today. There weren’t any breakthroughs on it and we continue to consider all our options on that and many other issues.”

He added: “What we really now need to do is very urgently find some solutions which support the Belfast Good Friday Agreement, support the peace process in Northern Ireland and allow things to return to normal.

“What the EU is insisting on is we should operate the protocol in an extremely purist way. The reality is that it’s a very balanced document that’s designed to support the peace process and deal with the very sensitive politics in Northern Ireland.

“It’s obviously best to find a negotiated agreement if we can and that’s what we are really intending to do. If we can’t, and we’re working very hard to do it, then obviously we consider all our options for next steps.”

‘Cross-retaliation’

At a press conference after the talks, Sefcovic said the bloc had not ruled out “cross-retaliation” if the UK does not abide by the agreement.

He refused to set a deadline by which the EU could take further steps, but warned “patience really is very, very, very thin”.

Sefcovic insisted he came to London to “find the solution” but options on the table included the suspension of co-operation in certain sectors and quota tariffs.

“The trust, which will be at the heart of every partnership, needs to be restored,” he said.

“It might be that our British partners could not have fully estimated what will be the consequences of the Brexit they have chosen,” Sefovic said.

“What it would mean to leave the single market, the customs union, how complex it can be for businesses, for the Government, for IT systems, for training of personnel.

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“And now I will say gradually more and more things are coming to the table… some of them which we’ve foreseen, some of them which were unforeseen.”

In a statement issued after the meeting the British government expressed concern that there had been no “substantive progress” across a range of issues and warned there was a danger the supply of medicines could be affected unless there was an early breakthrough.

“The UK will continue to put forward detailed proposals, as we have throughout this year, and looks forward to discussing any proposals the EU may put forward,” it said.

“There is an urgent need for further discussions in order to make real progress, particularly to avoid disruption to critical supplies such as medicines.”

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