UK says time running out for solution in Brexit trade talks

The British government attempted to speed up negotiations with the European Union to tackle post-Brexit trade issues on Saturday, claiming that the two sides are still far apart and that time is running out to bridge the gap.

Over the last week, UK and EU officials have convened in Brussels to try to overcome key differences over trade rules for Northern Ireland. On Tuesday, the negotiations will proceed to London, with Britain stating that “significant gaps on the basic concerns remain.”

The UK government said talks so far had been “constructive” but added that “we need to see real progress soon rather than get stuck in a process of endless negotiation because the issues on the ground in Northern Ireland haven’t gone away.”

Even if the UK leaves the 27-nation bloc at the end of 2020, Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK and shares a border with EU member Ireland, stays part of the EU’s tariff-free single market for goods.

The open border on the island of Ireland is ensured by this unique status, which has been a major pillar of Northern Ireland’s peace process since the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. However, although being part of the same country, it creates a new customs border in the Irish Sea for goods entering Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK.

This has resulted in increased red tape for businesses, as well as delays in the delivery of some items to Northern Ireland. The UK alleges that Christmas crackers – celebratory noisemakers that are a holiday party classic – are being prohibited from reaching Northern Ireland due to EU laws on chilled meats, which resulted in a momentary sausage shortage.

The new procedures have also enraged British Unionists in Northern Ireland, who claim that the checks jeopardize Northern Ireland’s status in the United Kingdom and jeopardize the delicate political balance that underpins peace.

The EU accuses Britain of attempting to renegotiate a legally binding deal struck less than a year ago; some officials believe this demonstrates the UK government’s lack of trustworthiness.

However, the EU has agreed to make adjustments to the agreement, promising to decrease paperwork for transport businesses in half and reduce checks on food, plants, and animals entering Northern Ireland by up to 80%.

Britain has praised the suggestions but has also demanded that the EU’s top court be stripped of its role in settling any disagreements over the accord and replaced with independent arbitration, which the EU strongly refuses.

The EU’s chief negotiator, Maros Sefcovic, and Britain’s chief negotiator, David Frost, will meet in London at the end of next week to assess the talks’ progress. Britain threatened again on Saturday to invoke an emergency break clause that allows either side to suspend the deal in the event of a failure to reach an accord.

This would result in legal action from the EU, as well as possible economic sanctions, which might lead to a trade war. Any such conflict is more likely to harm the UK economy than the much larger EU.

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney also warned that discussions could not last indefinitely, urging Britain to respond to the EU’s readiness to compromise on Friday.

“I think the EU has shown a real appetite for compromise, and they have consciously avoided creating tension,” he said. “I can’t say the same in terms of the British government’s approach.”

“I don’t think it will be the case forever, that the EU will be in compromise and solutions mode.”

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