By John Chalmers
BRUSSELS – The European Union’s top negotiator in post-Brexit talks with Britain said on Monday that latest negotiations on an impasse over trading rules for Northern Ireland had brought “neither a breakthrough nor a breakdown”.
European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic said in a joint statement with British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss after a meeting in Brussels that both sides had agreed to pursue further regular discussions.
Truss, asked if London would trigger a suspension of parts of the Brexit divorce deal through the so-called Article 16, said she wanted to improve the situation through talks.
In December Truss took over the long-running negotiations on implementing the rules governing trade between Britain, its province Northern Ireland, and EU member Ireland – an agreement Britain signed, but now says is not workable in practice.
Her predecessor, David Frost, regularly raised the prospect that Britain would trigger Article 16.
Sefcovic told a news conference after the talks that there were differences between the two sides over the protection of the rights of EU citizens in Britain.
These were specifically the loss of residence status for EU citizens if they do not apply in time for settled status, and the lack of legal certainty for EU citizens with a new resident status.
“I had to regret the U.K.‘s position on both issues so far and I will consider our next steps,” Sefcovic said, declining to elaborate on what further action the EU’s executive might take on the matter.
Turning to the talks on Northern Ireland, Sefcovic said: “We took stock of the intensified talks that have taken place over the last few months. “In short, I would describe them as neither breakthrough nor a breakdown. So hard work continues.”
To avoid politically contentious border checks between Ireland and Northern Ireland, Britain and the EU agreed Northern Ireland would effectively remain within the EU’s customs union for goods, with checks taking place on goods moving between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland instead.
However, there has been friction about how this applies in practice – especially for goods intended to remain within Northern Ireland – as well as the arbitration role of the EU’s European Court of Justice.