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MNI: Signs Of Compromise In EU-UK Talks On Northern Ireland

MNI (Brussels)

Talks around the Northern Ireland Protocol have been "constructive", European officials tell MNI.

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European officials said EU-UK talks aimed at easing difficulties around the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol have been "constructive and intensive," with sources telling MNI they have been encouraged by the readiness of both sides to explore potential compromises.

Talks will continue this week, with further meetings between EU Commissioner Maros Sefcovic and UK Brexit Minister David Frost to try to iron out remaining differences, with the role of the European Court of Justice and the primacy of EU law within the single market being the biggest sticking point.

News media last week suggested that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson might allow the ECJ a narrowly defined role in overseeing the Protocol, although later reports downplayed any potential offer. Officials now seem determined to avoid further leaks as talks enter a phase they say requires confidentiality.

Last week, Sefcovic in effect offered to cut 80% of regulatory checks and dramatically scale down customs checks on British goods moving into Northern Ireland, in a proposal which Commission officials said was not "presented in a take it or leave it way." Negotiators need "space to find solutions," they said.

AVOID TRIUMPHALISM

Sean Kelly MEP, leader of the Fine Gael delegation in the European Parliament and a member of the EP's UK Contact Group, remains optimistic.

"Negotiations are still on-going, and frankly we should not speculate at this point. That said, it's positive to see constructive dialogue taking place," Kelly said, noting the reports that PM Johnson could allow a role for the ECJ in interpreting the application of EU law in Northern Ireland. "With Vice- President Sefcovic's proposals, I believe that progress certainly can be made if they are discussed on their merit."

Another source said it will be vital that Johnson and Frost avoid creating any sense of "triumphalism" if concessions are made to limit the role of the ECJ in Northern Ireland, particularly in light of the Commission's spat with Poland over the primacy of EU law.

"As with all things Brexit it would depend upon how it is sold to the member states and European Parliament. Any triumphalism by Johnson/Frost would not help. Bear in mind Rule of Law is quite an important internal issue at the moment, so the Commission must factor in the bigger picture."