EU can discuss N. Ireland trade package, but offer is final


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By Philip Blenkinsop

BRUSSELS - EU proposals on Northern Ireland trade are negotiable but there will not be a new package of measures to ease transit of goods from Britain if they are rejected, European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic said on Wednesday.

Sefcovic, who oversees post-Brexit relations with Britain, told in an interview he believed that Commission proposals to ease customs paperwork, food checks and flows of medicines were "really ticking all the boxes".

"I think what is very, very important to say here is that there will be no next package like this one," he said.

EU officials travelled to London on Wednesday to discuss the proposals with the UK government and Sefcovic said he hoped to host Britain's Brexit minister David Frost on Friday.

Frost made an impassioned pleas to the European Union on Tuesday to allow for "significant change" to the protocol that governs post-Brexit trade for Northern Ireland. London in particular wants to end oversight of the protocol by EU judges.

Sefcovic said oversight by the European Court of Justice was the price of access to the European single market, which Northern Ireland enjoys.

London has threatened to trigger the protocol's Article 16 safeguard measure if solutions cannot be agreed rapidly.

Sefcovic said the EU would not threaten Britain, but planned for all eventualities, with courses of response set out in the Brexit divorce deal and the trade agreement struck at the end of last year.

"I think also it would be good for a change to feel that the constructive spirit is reciprocated, also by the UK, because what we are putting on the table clearly can resolve most of the problems," he said.

If Britain matched the EU's creativity, Sefcovic said, both sides would be "in the home stretch".

The Commission vice-president declined to give a firm deadline for when talks should conclude, but indicated a strong preference for ending them by the end of 2021.

"I would very happy if we can start the New Year with all the new agreements, but we'll see if we'll be able to get to that point," he said.

 

(Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop; Editing by John Chalmers)

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