The UK and EU have held “constructive” talks over the Northern Ireland Protocol and have emphasised their desire to keep the relationship “positive”.
Foreign secretary Liz Truss met her counterpart Maros Sefcovic in Brussels yesterday to renew talks following their first face-to-face dialogue last week.
According to a brief joint statement, they agreed that officials would meet again this week, with the principals “taking stock” next week.
“They reaffirmed their shared desire for a positive EU-UK relationship underpinned by our shared belief in freedom and democracy and cooperation on common global challenges,” the statement added.
As well as the ongoing discussions, the EU-UK Joint Committee will meet in February, reports ITV.
This will be the first time the panel, set up to oversee the implementation and application of the Brexit divorce deal, will have met since June.
The Daily Telegraph reports that Sefcovic warned Truss not to repeat threats to trigger Article 16 of the Brexit treaty if a deal is to be achieved.
“If political goodwill is maintained, our discussions could lead to a timely agreement on durable solutions that would immediately and significantly help operators on the ground,” he said.
Brussels offered in October to cut many checks on British goods entering NI in return for better measures to ensure that these goods did not cross into Ireland and the EU.
However Britain does not think the measures go far enough and is also looking for a new arbitration system to prevent the European Court of Justice arbitrating on disputes.
After the talks, Truss said that “there has been progress” but added that she would not give a “running commentary” on the talks.
With Northern Ireland elections coming up in May, the EU believes the negotiations will have to cease at the end of February so as not to overshadow the campaign.
A UK source told the Daily Telegraph: “Both sides believe a deal can be done. There’s genuine optimism and Liz has brought refreshing momentum and positivity to the talks.”
RTE Europe editor Tony Connelly tweeted that Irish foreign affairs minister Simon Coveney said he was “hopeful progress can be made in February between EU and UK teams” and paid tribute to Truss’ “personal engagement in these discussions”.
Coveney said that the focus in the coming weeks would be on agrifood checks and customs formalities with the EU hoping that the UK would move on data sharing.
According to the Irish Times, Truss maintains that there is a “deal to be done” but is focused on finding practical solutions and not revisiting old arguments.