EU, UK to step up Northern Ireland talks amid ‘cordial’ atmosphere
LONDON — The U.K. and the EU have agreed to intensify talks next week on how to ease the burden imposed by post-Brexit trade rules on companies and people in Northern Ireland, amid signs of a warmer relationship between London and Brussels.
Britain’s Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, in charge of the Brexit portfolio since last month, welcomed Maroš Šefčovič, the European Commission vice president and Brexit point-man, for their first in-person discussion on new rules affecting trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.
The rules are set out in the controversial Northern Ireland protocol, aimed at protecting the EU’s single market while avoiding a politically sensitive hard border between the region and the Republic of Ireland.
Truss and Šefčovič met Thursday and Friday at Chevening House, the foreign secretary’s country residence in Kent, and were photographed walking together in the garden.
In a joint statement Friday, the two sides said the meeting took place “in a cordial atmosphere” and pointed to their shared “desire for a positive relationship between the EU and the UK underpinned by our shared belief in freedom and democracy.”
Since taking over responsibility for Brexit following the snap resignation of former U.K. Brexit Minister David Frost, Truss has made it a priority to improve the relationship with the EU, while demanding “pragmatism” from Brussels and keeping the threat of suspending parts of the protocol if solutions to the issues flagged by the U.K. are not reached.
“We have had constructive talks with the EU. We are now going to go into intensive negotiations to work towards a negotiated solution to sort out these very real issues for the people of Northern Ireland,” Truss said in a pooled broadcast clip.
“I think there is a deal to be done. I do want to make progress. Clearly if we don’t make sufficient progress we will have to look at the alternatives, but my absolute desire is to get a deal that works for the people of Northern Ireland,” she said.
A U.K. official said Truss “is investing a lot of energy in forging a good and constructive relationship with Šefčovič — she wants to reset relations and get off to a good start, which we feel we have done.”
The joint statement and the photographs are signs of a more cordial relationship after months of increasing tension under Frost’s leadership.
Before boarding a train back to Brussels, Šefčovič thanked Truss for her hospitality and stressed “now it’s time to start taking issues off the table.”
EU and U.K. officials will meet next week for “intensified talks,” ahead of another meeting between Šefčovič and Truss on January 24.
* This article was originally published here