The UK and the European Union are making progress in talks on how to ease trade friction in Northern Ireland while implementing the rules of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Intensive contact between officials on both sides in recent days have raise hopes that a ‘work plan’ on implementing the protocol can be crafted, the FT reports.
EU Brexit commissioner Maros Sefcovic and his UK counterpart David Frost may meet to review progress this week.
'Silence means engagement'
BBC NI and business editor John Campbell tweeted that technical talks have been making progress, adding: “We’ve heard little in recent weeks; in Brexitland silence usually indicates real engagement.”
According to Irish state broadcaster RTE, on 31 March the UK sent a document to the European Commission (EC) spelling out its views on the outstanding issues over the NI Protocol. The EC believed the document showed that the UK was serious about implementing the Protocol, RTE reports.
Although a joint document could be several weeks away, the meeting between Sefcovic and Frost could provide political impetus to proceedings.
‘Joint veterinary agreement’
RTE understands the EC has informally raised the idea of a joint EU UK veterinary agreement which, officials say, could do away with the majority of SPS (Sanitary and Phytosanitary) checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea.
However, both sides remain far apart on the kind of alignment with EU food safety rules to which the UK would have to agree.
Steel, food and soil
Talks are covering a wide array of practical issues – ranging from trade in steel and medicines to the policing of food safety standards, how to deal with residual soil on plant bulbs and the construction of border inspection posts.
Meanwhile, the House of Commons European Scrutiny Committee has criticised the government for not allowing sufficient scrutiny of the Protocol and last year’s free trade deal with the EU, according to the Belfast Telegraph.
A report from the committee said it had been provided with information that was “both incomplete and too late” about the joint committee which oversees EU-UK relations. As a result, it had been unable to “exercise proper democratic scrutiny”.
A cross-party group of MPs has joined with business leaders to set up an independent commission to scrutinise and suggest improvements to the UK-EU trade deal.
The group has been set up following the government’s closure of a select committee which had previously been examining UK-EU relations.
With violent disorder continuing in Northern Ireland over the last couple of weeks, the government is considering an inter-governmental conference with the Republic of Ireland to try and stabilise the situation, the Times reports.
There are concerns that involving Dublin could be perceived as interference by NI unionists.