The UK and EU have agreed to continue negotiations on the future implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol but said talks will now enter a “discreet” phase ahead of the NI Assembly elections in May.
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and her EU counterpart Maros Sefcovic met in Brussels today (21 February) for a ‘stocktaking meeting’ in which they reviewed post-Brexit trading arrangements.
A senior official told the BBC that the two sides would hold less formal political meetings that “create a bit of expectation or excitement” in the coming months.
The meeting marked the first gathering of the EU-UK Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee since last October.
However, an EU diplomat told the FT that the meeting was never likely to provide “a breakthrough or breakdown”.
RTE journalist Tony Connelly tweeted that an EU officer had said “some progress had been made on reducing the number of customs formalities on GB-NI goods but there were significant gaps when it came to agrifood checks.”
Many checks and controls on consignments entering Northern Ireland from Britain have been on pause following the UK’s decision to unilaterally suspend parts of the Protocol during talks.
The EU official said this was ““deeply unsatisfactory” and that Brussels would have to assess if talks are going to lead to solutions, RTE reports.
According to a preview of the meeting in the FT, the two sides wanted to agree to keep talks going in a bid to avoid looking divided during the Ukraine crisis.
Truss said: “It is important we all work together to preserve peace and stability in Northern Ireland, allowing us to focus on building a stronger relationship and focus on external issues, not least the situation in Eastern Europe and standing up to Russian aggression.”