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EU plans to end Brexit stand-off ‘unique chance for the North’

Martin says new talks offer good outcome for business and industry


EU negotiator Maros Sefkovic. Photo: Yves Herman/Reuters

EU negotiator Maros Sefkovic. Photo: Yves Herman/Reuters

EU negotiator Maros Sefkovic. Photo: Yves Herman/Reuters

Taoiseach Micheál Martin has said the latest EU proposals to end the Brexit deadlock offer a “unique opportunity” to Northern Ireland.

He was speaking just as the opening session of renewed talks, aimed at ending a bitter row over the North’s special trade status, ended in Brussels.

UK Brexit minister David Frost said he had been “quite encouraged” by the EU proposals, which he said had “definitely made an effort in pushing beyond where they typically go in these areas”.

But he also warned that the Brussels offering fell short, and doubled down on his insistence that the EU Court of Justice cannot have jurisdiction in single market disputes concerning Northern Ireland.

His Brussels counterpart in yesterday’s talks, Commissioner Maros Sefcovic, has again insisted that the North remains a de facto part of the single market and the EU Court is the ultimate arbiter in all single market disputes.

The UK enters these talks still reserving the right to invoke a clause to suspend the North’s special arrangements under the so-called Article 16 clause.

Now it has been confirmed that Brussels is under pressure from France, Germany and Netherlands to prepare retaliatory measures, with some support from Spain and Italy.

Options being considered are curbing UK access to EU energy supplies, imposing tariffs on British exports, and, in extreme circumstances, terminating the entire EU-UK post-Brexit trade agreement.

The news heightens the threat of Ireland being caught in the middle of an emerging trade war.

Going into yesterday’s Brussels meeting, Frost warned there was a big gap between the EU and the UK negotiating positions.

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On Wednesday, the EU offered to sweep away 80pc of customs and health checks on animal and plant products entering Northern Ireland from Britain and another series of major concessions.

The Taoiseach said there was surprise at how far the EU negotiator, Mr Sefcovic, went, and added that it showed recognition for the North’s unique position and the importance of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

“It’s a unique solution, it’s one that recognises the uniqueness of the Good Friday Agreement and the various sets of relationships it involves. I think now it is a good outcome potentially for business and industry in Northern Ireland,” Mr Martin said.

Last night, Brussels officials played down suggestions that a compromise could be brokered by both sides on the EU Court jurisdiction impasse.

The officials said this talk which surfaced in a London newspaper was “at best premature” but sources agreed there were “potential devices” to get around this difficulty.

Frost remained determined the EU Court must be replaced by a system of independent arbitration.

“The governance arrangements don’t work – we need to take the court out of the system as it is now and we need to find a better way forward. So all this is for discussion and I’m looking forward. But our position is clear, and it always has been,” the UK minister insisted.

Asked about the possibility for retaliatory action should the UK use article 16 to suspend parts of the Northern Ireland protocol, a European Commission spokesperson would not be drawn.

“What we are concentrating now on, is finding solutions for the people in Northern Ireland,” he said.

The UK is also coming under pressure from France over fisheries to the Channel Islands’ lucrative waters.

The Jersey government has hit back against threats made by France to limit or cut off energy supplies to the island in this row over post-Brexit fishing rights.

Jersey’s external affairs chief, Ian Gorst, said he did not know why France had threatened its energy supply as they were still in “dialogue”.

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