LONDON (Reuters) – The British and Irish governments expressed optimism on Thursday that a thorny dispute between the UK and the EU over trade with Northern Ireland could be resolved, but the top diplomat Irishman said negotiations were likely to drag on into the next year.
Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said talks on post-Brexit rules for Northern Ireland, the only part of the UK that shares a border with an EU member, had no “breaking moment” produced. But there was also no outage that seemed to be looming for months.
“Do I think all of the issues related to the (Northern Ireland) Protocol can be resolved by the end of the year? I think it’s a tall order and it’s low. likely it will happen, ”Coveney said after a meeting of British and Irish ministers in London. .
Under an agreement reached before Britain left the EU last year, Northern Ireland remains within the single market without EU tariffs for goods. The arrangement was designed to keep an open border on the island of Ireland – a key pillar of the Northern Ireland peace process.
But it created a new customs border in the Irish Sea for goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK, even if they are part of the same country. This has resulted in red tape and supply problems for some companies, and angered British Unionists in Northern Ireland, who say the controls are undermining Northern Ireland’s place in the UK and destabilizing the delicate political balance on which peace rests.
The UK is seeking major changes to the provisions and has threatened to use an emergency break clause to suspend parts of the legally binding Brexit divorce deal, if no solution is found. Use of the emergency clause, known as Article 16, would trigger retaliation from the EU and could escalate into a trade war between the UK and the bloc of 27 countries.
“The triggering of Article 16, in my opinion, from the point of view of the EU, will move us into a new space where we do not want to go because I think it will be a signal that the negotiation has failed”, Coveney said.
Britain’s language towards the EU has become less belligerent in recent weeks, with ministers saying they would rather strike a deal than act unilaterally.
British Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said on Thursday he was “optimistic” about the outcome of the talks, which remain hung over Britain’s insistence that the EU withdraw its more high court for its role in resolving any dispute over the deal – an idea the bloc has categorically rejected.
“I hope we can reach a positive resolution with the EU. Our aim must be to solve the problems of the people of Northern Ireland,” Lewis told reporters.
Lewis and Coveney declined to confirm a Financial Times article that US concerns over the impact of the dispute on peace in Northern Ireland had led Washington to drag its feet to lift tariffs on British steel, what he did for EU steel.
Coveney said the United States has played an important role in securing peace in Northern Ireland, “and they are watching it closely.”
“It is nothing new that there are concerns in Washington in terms of the impact of the type of politics polarized around the Protocol and its implementation on the wider peace process and political stability in Northern Ireland. “, did he declare.
“The United States can speak for itself on this,” he said. “But for us, it’s about trying to find a compromise, trying to resolve difficult issues for both sides in a way that allows us to move forward and that will remain our focus.”
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