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Frost leaves Brussels after crunch talks over Brexit row – ‘significant differences’
April 15, 2021
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He travelled to Brussels for diplomatic talks with European Commission counterpart Maros Sefcovic in a bid to end the row over border checks and defuse tensions in the region. Over dinner at the EU’s Berlaymont HQ, the pair discussed plans to implement the post-Brexit border deal to minimise the risk of future flare-ups of violent disruptions. The pair dined on a starter of scallops and asparagus soup, and a main of sea bass.
Sources on both sides said they were keen to find a way to cool tensions in Northern Ireland after rioting broke out over the long Easter weekend.
The Northern Ireland Protocol has been blamed as one of the factors behind the recent violence amid concerns from Unionists it undermines their place in the UK.
UK and EU officials have been locked in intensive talks for several weeks over possible solutions to minimise the number of customs checks on goods being shipped to the region from mainland Britain.
Lord Frost and Mr Sefcovic’s intervention was said to be to inject a “political steer” into future wrangling over plans to avoid a hard border.
The pair also discussed the EU’s ongoing legal action against Downing Street for breaching the terms of the protocol.
Brussels threatened to sue the UK over its move to defy EU red tape for Northern Ireland.
Last month No10 announced it would temporarily suspend EU-ordered checks between the mainland Britain and the region until October.
Lord Frost argued the measures are lawful, in good faith and to prevent supermarket shelves from running bare.
The Commission has agreed to give Britain more time to respond to its legal action.
Downing Street said: “The meeting is part of an ongoing process with the EU to resolve outstanding differences on the Northern Ireland Protocol.”
A European Commission spokesman added: “The meeting is part of our intense efforts to find joint solutions to the implementation of the Protocol.”
The bloc is insisting on the full implementation of the protocol, including on a series of NI-GB trade checks.
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One proposal floated by eurocrats in recent technical talks involved an EU-UK veterinary agreement to eliminate checks on animal products crossing the Irish Sea.
The initial concept was rejected by British officials because it would involve the UK aligning with rules set by Brussels.
But a potential compromise could emerge if the EU agrees to recognise robust Britain’s food safety standards as equivalent to the bloc’s.
It was said Lord Frost would insist that the Government won’t sign up to an agreement that allows for continued meddling in the affairs of a sovereign nation.
Ahead of his dash to the Belgian capital, the peer met with Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney as part of his bid to broker a compromise.
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Dublin is seen a more pragmatic partner than Brussels by No10, with insiders claiming eurocrats don’t fully understand the complexities of the peace process.
Following the talks, Mr Coveney said: “We need to talk seriously about how the protocol is being managed, how it can be implemented in a way that listens to the concerns many in Northern Ireland have and what flexibilities are possible.”
Meanwhile, furious EU capitals have voiced frustrations with MEPs for undermining the bloc’s position in the wrangling over Northern Ireland.
The EU Parliament refused to set a date for the final vote to ratify the Brexit trade agreement in a bid to force British concessions in the talks.
But their threat angered member states, including Germany, who are worried it will weaken the EU’s negotiating position.
An EU diplomat said: “There is serious incredulity around the table.
“The irresponsible actions by the UK government have been bemoaned by MEPs for months only for them to act exactly the same way.”
Last year’s Brexit trade pact is only in force on a provisional basis because the EU has still not fully ratified it.
Downing Street has warned it will not allow for any extra time with temporary implementation set to expire at the end of the month.