UK talks with EU, Ireland on Northern Ireland set for Thursday


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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Irish FM Coveney and his German counterpart Maas attend news conference in Berlin

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LONDON/BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Britain will host Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney in London and its EU negotiator David Frost will travel to Brussels on Thursday for talks designed to ease differences over trade with Northern Ireland, the scene of more than a week of riots.

Coveney was due to hold talks with his British counterpart Dominic Raab and Brandon Lewis, Britain’s minister for Northern Ireland, an Irish government source said.

Frost would meet European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic on Thursday evening to discuss a British change in Northern Ireland trading arrangements in March, which prompted a legal challenge from Brussels.

Sefcovic told European Parliament leaders on Tuesday of Frost’s visit, according to people with knowledge of the meeting. The parliament has allowed committee voting on the EU-UK trade and cooperation agreement to proceed, in a show of goodwill, but has yet to decide on a plenary vote. [L8N2M650G]

The British-ruled province of Northern Ireland is in a complicated situation – in the EU single market for goods to ensure an open border with EU member Ireland and requiring checks on goods coming from other parts of the United Kingdom.

Critics of the arrangement say it effectively places a border in the Irish Sea, leaving pro-British unionists feeling betrayed by London and helping to fuel the worst violence in the region for years.

Technical experts from Britain and the EU have held talks, but both sides say that the differences are significant even if the atmosphere of the discussions is good.

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An EU diplomat said the Frost-Sefcovic meeting was unlikely to provide a break-through and would be more of a stock-taking exercise. An agreement may be weeks or months away.

“They have a list, I think it’s now gone over about 20 issues, some of which are relatively straightforward, some of which aren’t,” the diplomat said. “I think there is a general sense of cooperation going on, but it’s not easy.”

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