Protocol talks to be stepped up before Christmas as agreement still not found

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The UK and the European Union will step up efforts to reach an agreement on the Northern Ireland Protocol before Christmas after negotiators failed to find consensus once again.

After another week in the laboured talks on solving the issues thrown up by the Brexit border deal, Lord Frost said he and European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic had still not reached agreement.

The Brexit minister said “intensive talks” would continue next week. He and his opposite number will double how often they meet “in the hope of making worthwhile progress towards agreed solutions before Christmas”.

Lord Frost had previously said he did not want protocol negotiations to continue beyond December.

Reports have suggested that the UK Government has watered down its demand that the role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) must be removed from the protocol.

The stance had been seen as a block to any potential agreement, with Brussels refusing to countenance such a move.

But, in his statement on Friday, Lord Frost said there needed to be “movement on all the difficult issues created by the protocol”, including on the Court of Justice.

The protocol was agreed as part of the Withdrawal Agreement in order to avoid a hard border in Ireland after the UK left the EU.

Both sides are trying to reach an agreement that would reduce customs paperwork and the number of checks required on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland and ensure a continued free flow of medicines across the Irish Sea.

Brexit minister Lord Frost
Brexit minister Lord Frost (Peter Byrne/PA)

“I underlined the need for movement on all the difficult issues created by the protocol, including customs, agri-food rules, subsidy policy, VAT/excise, and governance including the Court of Justice.

“We will not find a durable solution that does not deal with all these problems.

“Intensive talks will continue this coming week.

“Maros Sefcovic and I will talk twice to steer the process, in the hope of making worthwhile progress towards agreed solutions before Christmas.”

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson told MPs the protocol could be worked in a different way and reiterated his threat to suspend elements of the accord – by triggering the Article 16 mechanism – if a resolution is not found.

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