New year, same feud: UK-EU resume talks on Brexit trade spat

Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, left, greets EU post-Brexit negotiator Maros Sefcovic as he arrives for a meeting at Chevening in Kent, England, Thursday, Jan. 13, 2022. Top negotiators from Britain and the European Union are meeting in hope of resolving their a thorny dispute over Northern Ireland trade. (Ben Stanstall/Pool Photo via AP) (Ben Stansall)

LONDON – U.K. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss called for Britain and the European Union to rebuild their relationship, as she and bloc’s top Brexit official met Thursday for talks on a thorny dispute over Northern Ireland trade.

Truss and European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic were meeting at Chevening House, the foreign secretary’s official country retreat in southeast England.

Truss urged the EU to show a “pragmatic approach” to resolving problems that have soured the relationship since Britain left the 27-nation bloc last year.

“As fellow believers in liberty and democracy, we should be capable of reaching an agreement that delivers for Northern Ireland and allows us to unleash the full potential of our relationship,” she said.

Sefcovic said he wanted “stability” and “predictability” for Northern Ireland, the only part of the U.K. sharing a border with an EU member and where wrangling over post-Brexit rules has been centered.

As part of the divorce deal, the two sides agreed to keep Northern Ireland inside the EU’s tariff-free single market for goods to maintain an open border on the island of Ireland — a key pillar of Northern Ireland’s peace process.

That created a new customs border in the Irish Sea for goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the U.K. even though they are part of the same country. The arrangement has brought red tape and supply problems for some businesses, and it has angered Northern Ireland’s British Unionists, who say the checks undermine Northern Ireland’s place in the U.K. and destabilize the delicate political balance on which peace rests.

Truss was appointed Britain’s lead EU negotiator last month after Brexit Minister David Frost quit, citing disillusionment with the Conservative government’s policies on issues including taxation and COVID-19.

Brexit negotiations made limited progress under Frost, perceived by many EU officials as an intransigent hard-liner. Truss has struck a warmer tone and was welcoming Sefcovic with an all-British dinner of Scottish smoked salmon, Welsh lamb and Kent apple pie.

But Truss has so far stuck to Britain’s insistence that the EU remove its top court from its role in resolving any disputes over the Brexit agreement — an idea the bloc flatly rejects.

The U.K. is seeking major changes to the arrangements and has threatened to use an emergency break clause to suspend parts of the legally binding Brexit divorce agreement if no solution is found. That would trigger EU retaliation and could spiral into a trade war between the U.K. and the 27-nation bloc.

The EU accuses Britain of failing to respond positively to its “far-reaching proposals” to ease the burden on Northern Ireland businesses.


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