The EU’s Brexit chief said he was confident that solutions could be found to ‘minimize’ the Brexit disruption in Northern Ireland, calling for a ‘good faith’ approach to enforce the new trade rules of so as to reduce tensions.
Maros Sefcovic, European Commission vice-president responsible for Brexit, told FT he believes talks with the UK could lead to approaches that protect the EU market from illegal entry of goods and reduce problems of people and businesses in Northern Ireland – although he also stressed that it takes “a two-sided effort”.
Following a recent resurgence of unrest and violence in the region, Britain and the EU agreed last week to intensify discussions on the implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol – part of the 2019 Brexit Treaty that created a trade border in the Irish Sea to ensure that all goods in transit from Britain to Northern Ireland abide by the rules of the bloc.
Speaking to the FT on Friday after a dinner on Thursday with his British counterpart David Frost, Sefcovic said the EU would never be able to tolerate a “risk to the integrity of the single market” that could arise if controls were not were not correctly applied. But he said those conditions left room for discussions on practical solutions.
“It’s not easy to do, it’s a huge and massive task,” he said, noting that talks with the UK cover more than 20 topics. “But what we need is a good faith approach and the proper implementation of all commitments. [already] business, so we see the system working, and then we can look at the risks associated with the different measures being applied, ”he said.
“We also ask our British colleagues to tell us how [they] want to minimize the risk, ”he said.
Speaking on Sunday, Irish taoiseach Micheál Martin said he “sincerely” believed the protocol was a “fair conclusion to attempts to limit the potential destructiveness of Brexit on this island”.
“It is complex, but it is nowhere near as complex as presented,” he said, stressing that “significant progress” has been made in recent days as Ireland, the United Kingdom and the EU were working on “how to ease disputes. and show how the arrangements for Northern Ireland can work. With openness and good faith, we can face this difficult time.”
The Irish leader warned that “very serious damage can occur if we continue to see people trying to use Brexit as a problem to create points of contention or. . . presenting each problem as a zero-sum, win-lose fight ”.
Sefcovic praised what he called “very professional cooperation” between British and EU officials in Northern Ireland and said relations between London and Brussels were improving after a argument on the protocol last month, when Britain blinded Brussels by unilaterally extending exemptions from some of the protocol’s rules – a move that led to Brussels taking legal action.
Sefcovic recalled that he and Frost had known each other since the mid-2000s, when Frost was a British civil servant working on EU budget negotiations, and the Slovak politician was his country’s ambassador to the EU.
Noting that they exchanged numbers in order to have a ‘hotline’ to avoid conflict, Sefcovic said, “I think we now have our personal relationship established at the level where we can really call each other any time of the day or so. night, and let’s just have this respect for each other that we will do everything we can not to surprise each other. “
When asked if he felt the EU was getting a ‘good faith’ implementation from the UK, he said the two sides had agreed to seek common solutions. “Certainly on my side, I’ll do my best. . . and I believe they will do the same. “
Pressed on what could be done to reduce disruption to trade, Sefcovic said, “We can make checks smoother, faster, we can do a lot with computer systems, and of course there are other ways to. do it.”
Sefcovic reiterated the EU’s position that one measure that would reduce trade friction would be for the UK to commit to aligning with EU animal health and food safety standards. Such a move has been ruled out by the UK government for sovereignty reasons, although UK officials have signaled the country would be interested in negotiating a veterinary deal modeled on the one the EU has with New Zealand, in which each party recognizes the standards of the other. .