New year, same feud: UK, EU resume talks on Brexit trade spat

Senior UK and EU negotiators are meeting in hopes of resolving their thorny dispute over Northern Ireland trade

LONDON — British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has called on Britain and the European Union to rebuild ties as she and the bloc’s top Brexit official met on Thursday for talks on the thorny trade dispute with Northern Ireland.

Truss and European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefkovic are meeting at Chevening House, the official resort of the foreign secretary in the south-east of Britain.

Truss urged the EU to show a “pragmatic approach” to the problems that have worsened relations between the two countries since Britain’s exit from the bloc’s 27 member states last year.

“As fellow liberals and democracy, we should be able to reach a deal that benefits Northern Ireland and allows us to unlock the full potential of our relationship,” she said.

Sefkovic said he wanted “stable” and “predictable” Northern Ireland, the only part of the UK that borders EU member states and a point of contention over post-Brexit rules.

As part of the divorce deal, the two sides agreed to keep Northern Ireland within the EU’s single market for duty-free goods in order to maintain the island’s open borders – a key pillar of the Northern Ireland peace process.

This creates a new customs border in the Irish Sea for goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK, even if they are part of the same country. The arrangement has created red tape and supply problems for some businesses and has angered British unionists in Northern Ireland, who say the checks undermine Northern Ireland’s standing in the UK and disrupt the delicate political balance on which peace is built.

Truss was named Britain’s chief EU negotiator last month following the resignation of Brexit minister David Frost, citing disillusionment with the Conservative government’s policies on issues such as taxation and COVID-19.

There has been limited progress in Brexit talks under Frost, whom many EU officials see as a stubborn hardliner. Truss took a warmer tone and welcomed Sefcovic with an all-English dinner of Scottish smoked salmon, Welsh lamb and Kent apple pie.

But Truss has so far held on to Britain’s insistence that the EU remove its Supreme Court’s role in settling any disputes over the Brexit deal – an idea the EU has categorically rejected.

Britain is seeking major changes to arrangements and has threatened to use emergency break clauses to suspend parts of a legally binding Brexit divorce deal if no solution is found. That would trigger retaliation from the EU and could turn into a trade war between the UK and the 27-nation bloc.

The EU has accused Britain of failing to respond aggressively to its “far-reaching proposals” to ease the burden on businesses in Northern Ireland.


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