BRUSSELS/LONDON, DPA – British Cabinet Minister Michael Gove and European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic will meet in London next week for further talks to resolve issues surrounding the Irish border.
On Wednesday evening, Gove and Sefcovic held a video crisis meeting with First Minister of Northern Ireland Arlene Foster and her deputy, Michelle O’Neill.
A “constructive discussion” was held between the parties and “intensive work” will begin between London and Brussels to avoid further issues and disruption, Britain and the European Commission said in a joint statement.
The meeting followed a chaotic few days between the EU and UK.
The bloc drew international anger when it moved to restrict exports of vaccines to Britain amid concerns over delivery delays.
It proposed triggering an emergency override clause in the Northern Ireland Protocol, a specially negotiated part of the Brexit deal that keeps goods flowing between EU state the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, to make controls at the Irish border possible for its new vaccine export register.
Following backlash from Dublin, Belfast and London, the EU swiftly backtracked.
However a few days later physical border checks were temporarily suspended in the Northern Irish ports of Larne and Belfast when graffiti threatening port workers appeared.
Gove and Sefcovic said they “condemned unreservedly any threats or intimidation,” adding “the safety and welfare of the people of Northern Ireland and that of our staff would always be the utmost priority”.
Sefcovic later told Irish broadcaster RTE he believed the issues could be resolved if all aspects of the Northern Ireland Protocol were implemented.
Ahead of the meeting, Gove wrote to Sefcovic and requested an extension of the transition period, which came to an end after Britain left the European Union’s single market at the end of last year, for supermarkets in Northern Ireland until January 1, 2023.
He also asked for an extension of transition periods for parcel delivery and medicines products for the same time frame.
In the letter, Gove said a “minimum set of steps” was necessary to stabilise the fragile situation in Northern Ireland.
He added the EU’s move had triggered “a sense of shock and anger” in Northern Ireland.
“I had expected a strong response but the reaction was even more negative than I had anticipated,” he said.
“The real concern all citizens and businesses have about their health and livelihoods at this very difficult time during the pandemic only deepened anxiety.”
Following the agreement of a Brexit trade deal in December, border checks were put in place between Northern Ireland and Britain to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
The issue is sensitive as Northern Ireland is divided between those who feel they are British and don’t like the idea of checks on goods from Britain and those who feel they are Irish and resent the border on the island.