BRUSSELS – EU and British negotiators need to be given time to discuss possible changes to Northern Ireland’s trading arrangements, Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said on Monday, expressing hope that they could register progress in the next few weeks.
The European Commission has made a “major move” in trying to ease trade from Britain to Northern Ireland with a package that was “strongly welcomed” in the British province, particularly by the business community, Coveney said.
“There is a process of dialogue now agreed between both sides and I think we need to give that time and space to work. The EU has not said their package is a ‘take it or leave it’ package,” Coveney said.
Coveney told reporters before a meeting of EU foreign ministers that the British government’s statements in the first half of last week had been unhelpful and appeared to be creating a relatively new problem, over the role of the European Court of Justice, rather than simply solving problems on the ground.
Since then Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic and British Brexit Minister David Frost have met in Brussels to discuss a solution.
“The Frost-Sefcovic discussions since that package was launched last Wednesday would suggest that both sides are taking that dialogue and that discussion very seriously, and hopefully we’ll see progress in the next few weeks,” Coveney said.
In a statement after Friday’s Frost-Sefcovic meeting, the British government said it would discuss the EU proposals constructively and in a positive spirit.
However, Frost repeated the British view that significant changes are still required to the current arrangements, including on governance.
“We recognise that the British government has an issue there, but we also recognise that the British government has obligations under international law to comply with the treaty that they themselves designed, ratified and now have an obligation to implement,” Coveney said.
Further talks will continue in Brussels this week.