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Maros Sefcovic after a meeting at Lancaster House in London
Maros Sefcovic after a meeting at Lancaster House in London
Image: Hollie Adams via PA Images

‘Serious headway’ needed in the next week over Northern Ireland Protocol, EU says

The European Commission vice-president said there had been a ‘change in tone’ from UK negotiators.
Nov 12th 2021, 4:37 PM 12,603 16

Updated Nov 12th 2021, 7:18 PM

“SERIOUS HEADWAY” NEEDS to be made in negotiations over the Northern Ireland Protocol in the next week, the EU has said.

However European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic said there had been a “change in tone” from the UK during the latest round of negotiations.

It comes after the UK Government appeared to soften its stance on using the protocol’s get-out clause, describing Article 16 as a “legitimate part of the protocol’s provisions” while stressing there was a “preference to find a consensual way forward”.

At a press conference following the latest round of talks held in London today, Sefcovic said: “We can and must arrive at the agreed solution that Northern Ireland truly deserves.

“That is also why I raised forcefully that we need to make serious headway in the course of next week.

“This is particularly important as regards the issue of medicines.

“An uninterrupted long-term supply of medicines from Great Britain to Northern Ireland is the protocol-related issue on everyone’s mind in Northern Ireland.”

He also said there had been a “change in tone” from Brexit Minister David Frost in the fourth round of talks held with the UK Government.

Sefcovic said: “I acknowledge and welcome the change in tone of discussion with David Frost today, and I hope this will lead to tangible results for the people in Northern Ireland.”

He told reporters the UK needed to “reciprocate the big move the EU has made” on the Northern Ireland Protocol.

He said he was “convinced the the issue of medicines could be a blueprint for how to approach and solve together the remaining outstanding issues” between the UK and the trading bloc.

Following the talks, a UK Government spokesman said: “Lord Frost noted that there remained significant gaps to be bridged between the UK and EU positions.

“He noted that, as set out to the House of Lords on 10 November, it remained the UK’s preference to find a consensual way forward, but that Article 16 safeguards were a legitimate part of the protocol’s provisions.

“Lord Frost also underlined the need to address the full range of issues the UK had identified in the course of discussions, if a comprehensive and durable solution was to be found that supported the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement and was in the best interests of Northern Ireland.

“In this context, although talks had so far been conducted in a constructive spirit, Lord Frost underlined that in order to make progress, it was important to bring new energy and impetus to discussions.”


Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald said this afternoon that outstanding issues around the Protocol “could be overcome if the British Government worked in partnership with the EU”.

However, DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson has today urged the UK government to honour its commitment to protect Northern Ireland’s place within the UK internal market.

He today welcomed a “more positive tone from the EU”, but urged a “sharper focus now on finding a solution that deals with the problems that have been created by this entirely unacceptable Irish Sea border”.

“The Government has made clear that the conditions have already been met to trigger Article 16, and for the UK to take unilateral action to address the difficulties created by the protocol and to replace it with new arrangements that protect Northern Ireland’s place within the UK internal market,” he said.

“That is a key commitment that the UK Government gave in the New Decade, New Approach agreement and we need to see that honoured, either in an agreement with the EU that removes this Irish Sea border, or in unilateral action by the UK Government triggering Article 16 and restoring Northern Ireland’s place fully in the UK internal market.

“Time is of the essence, it’s time for focus now, we need to see solutions, less of the rhetoric and let’s get to where we need to get to, and that is to remove the Irish Sea border and restore Northern Ireland’s place fully within the UK internal market.”

Speaking to media in Co Armagh following a meeting with a logistics firm, McDonald called for “less brinkmanship, less of the bad faith and the belligerence from the British Government”.

“We need them to work in partnership with the European institutions,” McDonald said.

“I have to say that our analysis is that the difficulty has come from the British Government, who regard Ireland, and the north of Ireland in particular, as collateral damage in their Brexit game. That is not good enough.

“The issues that arose with the protocol have answers, have solutions, I think the European Commission has moved considerably to provide those answers.

“Now the ball is firmly in the court of Boris Johnson and his Government and we need to see him and them finally act in partnership, in good faith and with goodwill.

“If those things prevail we can find the answers, not just to medicine, but to all of the other outstanding issues.”

McDonald said there was “no reason” for the British Government to trigger Article 16.

“The negotiations for the Withdrawal Agreement and the new trading arrangements and the protocol ran to the 11th hour and that happened because the British Government made a decision to negotiate in that way, right up until the last moment,” she said.

“There is no reason to trigger Article 16. We have a joint committee, we have the mechanisms to deal with issues as they arise.

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“The evidence is clear now, all across Ireland and in the north of Ireland, that the vast, vast majority of people and businesses recognise the need for the protocol and they want it to work.”

The next set of talks will take place in Brussels on Friday, 19 November.

The UK has set a December deadline for resolving the renegotiation of the protocol.

In October, the EU offered a series of alterations to the agreement, which is designed to maintain free-flowing trade on the island of Ireland without a hard border.

The agreement effectively keeps Northern Ireland within the EU single market, meaning that trade goods must be checked on arrival from mainland UK.

The EU has offered to cut out 80% of these checks, with the aim of helping businesses and the economy in Northern Ireland.

But the UK Government is seeking further alterations to the agreement, including removing the role of judges in the European Court of Justice (ECJ) as the arbitrators of disputes.

On the role of the ECJ, Sefcovic confirmed that “definitely nothing’s changed” in the EU’s position.

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