EU seeks February end to NI Protocol talks as Truss and Sefcovic meet on 'oven ready' deal

Fri 21 Jan 2022
Posted by: Noelle McElhatton
Trade News

The EU wants to conclude negotiations on the Northern Ireland Protocol by the end of February so that the issue does not cloud the NI elections in May.

European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic briefed the European parliament yesterday, warning that despite the change of negotiator from Lord Frost to Liz Truss, the UK’s demands remained the same.

The FT reports an EU diplomat who said Sefcovic told member states’ ambassadors that Truss was adopting demands he thought Frost had abandoned. “We are going backwards in time,” the diplomat said.

Press pause

Sefcovic would pause talks from March if no conclusion was reached. The protocol is likely to be a political hot topic during the NI election campaign, with Unionist parties strongly against it.

According to RTE, Sefcovic told MEPs that the European Commission had offered an “oven-ready deal”.

Talks have been ongoing since October with both sides offering a range of proposals to alleviate the burdens of the protocol.

The EU has offered to cut up to 80% of checks on animal and plant-based products, halve the customs documentation for the movement of goods from Britain to Northern Ireland, and free up the flow of medicines.

UK wants more

However, the UK has said the proposals do not go far enough and has demanded more far-reaching changes.

Although the first face to face meeting between Brexit minister Liz Truss and Sefcovic last week was said to have lowered the temperature between the parties, there was little obvious advance in negotiations.

RTE correspondent Tony Connelly tweeted a summary of the situation ahead of the next meeting, saying Sefcovic accused the UK of adding demands and that both sides had to start taking things off the table.

Truss to Brussels

Truss will be in Brussels for talks on Monday, reports the Guardian.

The minister and Sefcovic have exchanged pleasantries by Twitter after speaking today ahead of Monday’s talks. This is despite EU sources saying the commissioner had been “surprised and concerned” that Truss had regurgitated many of Lord Frost’s demands.

Meanwhile, as covered in yesterday’s IOE&IT Daily Update, the latest data from Ireland’s Central Statistics Office show that trade flows between the Republic of Ireland (ROI), NI and Great Britain (GB) continue to alter significantly post-Brexit.

The value of goods imported from Great Britain fell by almost £2.75bn from January to November last year, while trade between NI and the Republic has increased substantially.