Britain and EU hold talks TODAY as efforts ramp up to end Brexit standoff over Northern Ireland trade rules
- Foreign Secretary James Cleverly to hold fresh talks with EU’s Maros Sefcovic
- Pair will discuss ongoing efforts to end the bitter Northern Ireland Protocol row
- There are growing hopes a breakthrough is near in the Brexit trade dispute
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly is to hold fresh talks with a top EU official today amid speculation a breakthrough could soon be reached in the bitter row over Northern Ireland.
Mr Cleverly will speak with European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic via video link to discuss progress on ending the dispute over post-Brexit trade rules.
Today’s talks come just a week after the pair’s previous discussions, held in London, led to a significant boost to hopes of resolving the Northern Ireland Protocol row.
Last Monday’s agreement on a data-sharing deal will allow the EU to monitor the flow of goods into Northern Ireland by permitting Brussels access to UK IT systems.
Such an agreement was seen as key to a wider solution to the Protocol dispute.
Ahead of today’s talks, a UK Government source admitted that ‘significant gaps’ remain between the UK and EU over the Protocol.
But they added that the ‘desire to work together on a solution seems to be there’.
Mr Cleverly and Mr Sefcovic will once again be joined in their discussions today by Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverly is to hold fresh talks with European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic over the Northern Ireland Protocol row
The pair’s talks in London last week led to an agreement on a data-sharing deal, which was seen as key to a wider solution to the Protocol dispute
Mr Cleverly and Mr Sefcovic will once again be joined in their discussions today by Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris
Unionists are bitterly opposed to how the Northern Ireland Protocol is currently being implemented
Mr Heaton-Harris has a legal duty to call fresh elections in Northern Ireland if a power-sharing executive isn’t restored at Stormont by Thursday.
It has been suggested he could once again delay calling Stormont elections for a number of weeks in order to give more time for the Protocol talks between the UK and EU to reach a resolution.
The DUP, who are boycotting the Stormont institutions as part of their protest against the Protocol, have shown little appetite for re-entering power-sharing until the UK-EU talks reach a conclusion.
Speculation that a Protocol agreement might be near has mounted in recent days after both Mr Cleverly and Mr Heaton-Harris visited Belfast last week.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer also made his own trip to Northern Ireland.
Barry Andrews, an Irish member of the European Parliament, said there was an ‘expectation’ that a ‘political declaration’ could emerge out of today’s talks between Mr Cleverly and Mr Sefcovic.
‘Not an internationally binding agreement, but a political declaration and framework for the way forward,’ the Fianna Fail politician told Times Radio.
‘We had some positive announcements last week… and generally I think there’s been a build-up of trust between the parties.’
A UK Government source said: ‘We’d all prefer a negotiated solution but significant gaps remain.
‘It is the conversations with the commission that will either bring that about or not.
‘Nobody should be under any illusions that this is complex and difficult but the desire to work together on a solution seems to be there.’
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