By Philip Blenkinsop
BRUSSELS -The European Union has made progress in its talks with the UK on the trading arrangements of Northern Ireland but difficulties remain, European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic said on Monday.
Sefcovic, who oversees EU relations with Britain, said his team wanted a breakthrough every week, referring to recent reports on advancing talks.
“Progress is being made, but difficulties remain,” he told a news conference after a meeting of EU ministers in Brussels.
“What we are focusing on is gradual, incremental work. We are looking for the possible landing zone for the possible joint solution and this work continues.”
Sefcovic said it was important for the EU to re-establish trust with London and commented that after recent closer contacts: “We are getting there”.
Northern Ireland occupies a unique place after Britain’s exit from the European Union, remaining in the EU single market for goods.
The arrangement, to avoid a hard border with EU member Ireland and preserve peace, has meant checks are required on some goods arriving in Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom, angering pro-British unionists in the province.
Britain has proposed creating green customs lanes for goods bound only for Northern Ireland and red lanes for products heading into Ireland or elsewhere in the EU.
The Commission has said it is open to the idea of “express lanes” so long as safeguards are in place.
“A very important element I’d like to underline is, it’s a very clear equation, the more and stronger safeguards we can get, the more flexibility we can explore,” he said.
Sefcovic said an agreement on access to British data on goods being shipped to Northern Ireland would “dramatically” improve the flow of information required to protect the single market.