Sefcovic and Cleverly enter crunch talks but Brexit deal unlikely

Keir Starmer discuses Brexit and a second referendum

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The Foreign Secretary is hosting EU Commissioner Maros Sefcovic in London today for Brexit talks on the ongoing dispute over the Northern Ireland Protocol. The pair resumed talks in October when a deal on veterinary drugs reaching the EU via Northern Ireland was reached between the two parties.

However, despite optimism on the chances of reaching a full deal on goods moving to Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK as soon as possible, sources close to the EU and the UK Government claim it might prove impossible by April 10, the date of the Good Friday Agreement 25th Anniversary.

One official told RTE News: “We are looking at a fudge where [both sides] will point to nominal progress and some agreement.”

Asked whether a deal could be reached by April 10, another source said: “It could end up like that. In any event, these are very detailed things that need to be worked on, so it’s possible you could have some sort of announcement and then [both sides] say we need to follow up and do all this other stuff that will take weeks or even months.”

“The obligation is on both sides to find solutions that work for people in Northern Ireland,” a third source told RTE.

“That’s what’s pushing us to do this. We will want to show that, and we’re working hard to do it. Politics aside, we want to sort this out.”

The UK and EU continue to discuss the protocol, while the Government maintains it could use the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill to unilaterally overhaul the arrangement if negotiations fail.

Last week, Germany’s foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, said Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trade arrangements are the “Achilles heel” to continuing relations between the EU and the UK.

Baerbock’s appeal to find a solution to the deadlock over the Northern Ireland Protocol came as she was due to meet Mr Cleverly on Thursday to discuss support for Ukraine and the UK’s relationship with Germany.

In a statement ahead of her visit, she said: “To this day, the Achilles heel of our relations, as the EU, with the United Kingdom is the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

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“It is key that we find a responsible and pragmatic solution for Northern Ireland, on the basis of existing agreements.

“It is the only way we will realise the full potential of our partnership.

“At the same time, as we engage in our new relationship, we are under an obligation to get the very best results for those who are directly affected.

“While we cannot turn back the clock, we can decide to step forward into a good common future.”

The protocol aims to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland.

But members of the unionist community are unhappy with the difficulties it creates for trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

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The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has refused to cooperate with forming a devolved Executive in Stormont until issues with the agreement are resolved.

Ms Baerbock said her visit to London “is about jointly looking to the future after Brexit”.

She added: “We will be meeting for our first German-UK Strategic Dialogue, through which we aim to make our partnership fit for the future.

“For this, we need to build new bridges in the areas of youth exchange and worker mobility, as well as for university students and research – in short, in areas where people come together.

“Furthermore, we want to engage in even closer dialogue, so that we can provide Ukrainians with weapons and winter relief, as well as help them with sanctions packages, so that they can win the war and live in freedom and peace, like us.

“The sooner (Russian President Vladimir) Putin realises that his brutal war of aggression is doomed to fail, the more swiftly we can begin to hope for an end to the war.”

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