EU negotiator Sefcovic admits NI Protocol deal before Christmas was 'probably too ambitious'

Wed 24 Nov 2021
Posted by: William Barns-Graham
Trade News

Following international trade secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan’s comments that no one wanted to trigger Article 16 before Christmas, the European Commission’s vice-president Maros Sefcovic has confirmed that talks are likely to continue into 2022.

Sefcovic, who is to meet his counterpart Lord Frost on Friday, said that unless there was “decisive progress this week” on the issue of medicines moving between GB and NI, then his hope to wrap up negotiations by Christmas was doomed.

Too ambitious

In an interview with Politico, Sefcovic said he had been “probably too ambitious” in previously stating that negotiations over customs and food checks or the role of the European Court of Justice could be finalised this year.

“I think that if there was the clear political will from the UK side these ... problems could be solved,” he said. “But looking at how far we progressed over the last four weeks, the level of detail our UK partners want to discuss, I know that we will probably not be able to resolve everything before the end of the year.”

One-by-one approach

Sefcovic has said a deal on medicines could see the other Protocol issues being solved “one by one”, according to the Telegraph.

However, he added that the medicines agreement is needed this week as the EU will need several more weeks to implement the solution.

Ministers at odds

Earlier this week, the UK’s Trevelyan said Article 16 would “absolutely not” be triggered before Christmas.

However, Downing Street sources have sought to keep the threat alive, reports the Irish News.

A spokesperson refused to rule out the Christmas deadline and said that while a negotiated settlement was preferable, Article 16 remained a “safety mechanism, if solutions can’t be found”.

US steps in

The Express reports that US politicians are concerned that the peace in Northern Ireland could come under threat if Article 16 was triggered.

“You've got a lot of members of Congress who care deeply about the Good Friday Agreement and many of us feel that exercising Article 16 could plunge Northern Ireland into economic chaos,” said Democratic senator Chris Murphy.

Murphy added that Brussels also needed “to come to the table and agree to be flexible on the implementation of the Protocol”.

The US is a guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement and President Biden has repeatedly underlined his commitment to it.