The European Union and the UK are preparing to enter a phase of heavy negotiations aimed at overcoming the post-Brexit trade link dispute from next week, ahead of the anniversary of the peace treaty with Northern Ireland in April.
After discussing the talks on 16 January, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and Deputy Leader of the European Council Maros Sefcovic said the aim was to enter a “tunnel” of negotiations.
Earlier this week, Cleverly and Sefcovic announced that the EU has agreed to use the UK’s live knowledge base to track goods shipped to Northern Ireland.
This announcement was the first sign of a phase in the long-running dispute over post-Brexit trade rules, and was considered a step forward for negotiations on other more complex issues, such as controls on agricultural food products, state aid and VAT.
Amidst other prominent problems is the dispute over the Northern Ireland protocol, which arose as the UK demanded that the European Court of Justice abandon its role in resolving Brexit disputes in the region altogether. This remains a red line for the EU.
“After the January 16 meeting, the negotiation tunnel can be entered”
Following his talks with Cleverly this week, Manufacturing NI CEO Stephen Kelly said he expects Cleverly and Sefcovic to announce that after their January 16 meeting, the UK and the EU will “enter a deep scoping exercise or type of conversation traditionally known as tunneling”.
The two sides hope to reach an agreement by the end of next month, ahead of the April anniversary of the 1998 Belfast Peace Agreement, Bloomberg previously reported.
The dispute stems from the original Brexit agreement, in which both sides agreed to avoid a land border on the island of Ireland. The system for this effectively created a demarcation in the Irish Sea and allowed Northern Ireland to remain within the EU’s common market and customs arrangements. The UK has so far not implemented some parts of these agreements, and in response, the EU has initiated infringement procedures on several issues.