Wednesday 24 February 2021 10:24 pm

UK-EU meeting on Northern Ireland fails to produce breakthrough

A meeting this evening between Michael Gove, Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster and European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic has failed to produce a breakthrough.

Although the parties welcomed the progress made on citizens’ rights in recent weeks in implementing the rights of UK nationals in the EU and EU citizens in the UK under the Withdrawal Agreement, Foster called the talks “a hugely disappointment,” telling Northern Irish broadcaster UTV “I can’t say I am surprised given the attitude of the EU to the protocol.”

The Northern Ireland Protocol in the UK-EU withdrawal deal effectively left the British province of Northern Ireland within the EU’s single market, and put a customs border in the Irish Sea, thereby dividing the province from mainland Britain.

The British government is demanding concessions from the EU to minimise disruption in trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom that have emerged since Britain left the bloc’s trading orbit in January.

The EU has vowed to be “pragmatic” in seeking solutions, but blamed the disruption on Britain’s decision to exit the European Union and has called for London to implement measures agreed.

Foster said she wanted the protocol to be replaced, at least in part. “We are not asking for the impossible at all,” she said.

Noting the need for ongoing engagement and a shared desire to act at pace, the UK and EU agreed that a further joint Ccmmittee would be held “to provide further steers and where appropriate approvals, and would liaise on timings.”

Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, a member of Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein, who also attended the meeting, was more positive.

“Both sides restated their commitment to finding practical solutions,” she said in a statement tonight.