Brexit: UK and EU urge compromises over Irish Sea border checks

David Frost and Maros Sefcovic

image copyrightEPA/REUTERS

The UK’s Brexit minister Lord Frost has urged the EU to show “common sense” during talks over post-Brexit rules in Northern Ireland.

The Tory peer will meet his EU counterpart Maros Sefcovic in London on Wednesday to discuss ways to reduce disruption at the Irish Sea border.

Some delayed border checks are due to start next month, but both sides are calling on each other to compromise.

Mr Sefcovic has warned against “quick fixes” to border issues.

The UK and EU officials have been locked in talks over simplifying the Northern Ireland Protocol, part of the UK’s 2019 Brexit withdrawal deal.

This created a trade border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, in order to prevent goods checks along the Irish land border.

That has required new border checks on GB goods going to Northern Ireland, causing disruption to some food supplies and online deliveries.

The UK has unilaterally pushed back the full implementation of checks on supermarket goods and parcels to ease this disruption – prompting the EU to accuse the UK of undermining the protocol and beginning legal action.

The next phase of controls, on chilled meat products like sausages and mince, is due to begin on 1 July when a jointly-agreed grace period ends.

Ahead of this week’s negotiations, Mr Sefcovic – a vice-president of the European Commission – has warned the UK against unilaterally extending this deadline too.

He said that if this were to happen, the EU “will not be shy in reacting swiftly, firmly and resolutely to ensure that the UK abides by its international law obligations”.

Larne port

image copyrightReuters

Ahead of the meeting, Lord Frost said: “time is short and practical solutions are needed now to make the protocol work”.

“I look to the EU to show flexibility and engage with our proposals so that we can find solutions that enjoy the confidence of all communities,” he said.

He added that “further threats of legal action and trade retaliation” would not help consumers or businesses based in Northern Ireland.

“What is needed is pragmatism and common sense solutions to resolve the issues as they are before us,” he added.

Crossroads warning

Earlier this week, Lord Frost admitted the UK had “underestimated” the effect of the protocol in Northern Ireland, but also accused the EU of “legal purism” in how it has been interpreted.

Mr Sefcovic denied the EU had been inflexible, saying it had shown it was prepared to “find creative solutions when required”.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday evening, he said the two sides were “approaching the crossroads” in how they deal with border issues.

“We can have two possible roads. One is road of cooperation, show and action and constructive engagement,” he said.

“The other would lead us to more, to a difficult situation which would be generated by further unilateral actions.”

“I hope that with Lord Frost we will find tomorrow the solutions to clearly opt for the first path, because only that will bring us to the long lasting solutions and not quick fixes.”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has said she will also raise Northern Ireland issues with Prime Minister Boris Johnson at this weekend’s G7 summit in Cornwall.

As well as meeting to discuss issues in Northern Ireland, the UK and EU are set to hold their first-ever set of official talks over implementing the post-Brexit trade deal agreed late last year.

Among issues to be discussed are law enforcement co-operation, fees for visa applications and tensions over fishing rights.