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Brexit: UK, EU vow to address Northern Ireland issues after ‘frank discussion’

UK and EU officials described talks in London as "constructive" after tensions were raised over the Northern Ireland border. Issues over the supply of goods was high on the agenda.

By: Deutsche Welle |
February 12, 2021 5:10:09 pm
Politicians said they would "spare not effort" when it comes to N. Ireland, but they had no details to share (Liam McBurney/empics/picture alliance)

Britain and the EU vowed on Thursday to resolve post-Brexit trade frictions over the Northern Ireland border in the wake of the UK’s departure from the bloc.

Northern Ireland was barely mentioned in the parliamentary debates prior to the 2016 Brexit referendum.

Yet the nature of the 499-kilometer (310-mile) border separating north from the south has become one of the most contentious issues since, not least over trade and the vulnerability of the peace accord struck in 1998 — the Good Friday Agreement — that largely ended sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland that had ensued since the late 1960s.

Since the UK fully left the EU after the post-Brexit transition period ended on January 1, significant shortages of fresh produce and other goods has occurred across Northern Ireland, exacerbating post-Brexit tensions.

Senior British Cabinet Minister Michael Gove and European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic held “a frank but constructive discussion” with the Good Friday Agreement and issues over the supply of goods at the center of those talks, the pair said.

Their statement added that they would “spare no effort” to implement solutions agreed in December under the so-called Northern Ireland Protocol.

Irish PM calls for calm

Relations between the UK and the EU have become increasingly fractious, with Ireland keeping a close eye on proceedings.

Irish Prime Minister Micheal Martin has called on both sides to “dial down the rhetoric.”

“We just need to calm it, because ultimately we want the United Kingdom aligning well with the European Union. We want harmonious, sensible relationships,” he told RTE radio.

Single market sticking point

The dispute between the bloc and the UK revolves around the EU’s insistence on Britain honoring its withdrawal treaty, which left Northern Ireland within the European Union’s single market.

Under the Northern Ireland Protocol, the territory remains in the single market for goods and applies EU customs rules at its ports due to a border in the Irish Sea, dividing the province from mainland Britain.

Gove, who last month threatened that London would consider “all instruments at its disposal” if it did not secure the necessary concessions on Northern Ireland, met Sefcovic in London late on Thursday.

Gove and Sefcovic said they would meet again “no later than 24 February to provide the necessary political steer and approval to this work in the spirit of collaboration, responsibility and pragmatism.”

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