The vice president of the European Union’s executive arm and the United Kingdom’s Brexit minister are to hold talks Thursday in Brussels to discuss Northern Ireland trade rules.
The meeting between European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic and UK Brexit minister David Frost will take place a month after the EU started legal action against its former member country, arguing that it had not respected the conditions of their Brexit agreement and violated international law.
EU Commission spokesman Daniel Ferrie said Sefcovic and Frost would have an informal meeting to “take stock of ongoing technical work” and “to provide a political steer for both teams on outstanding issues”.
The two sides are trying to find common ground on trade rules in Northern Ireland, where Britain’s exit from the European Union has unsettled a delicate political balance.
Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom but remained part of the EU’s single market for goods after Brexit to avoid checks at the territory’s border with EU member Ireland. An open Irish border helped underpin the peace process that ended decades of sectarian violence, allowing people in Northern Ireland to feel at home in both Ireland and the UK.
Unionists say an alternative post-Brexit arrangement the British government and the EU worked out has amounted to the creation of a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.
In March, the UK decided to unilaterally extend a grace period until October on checks for goods moving between Britain and Northern Ireland, a decision that led the EU to issue a formal notice to its former member. The UK had been given one month to respond.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman, Max Blain, said Wednesday that the UK had “agreed with the EU that we will respond to the letter of formal notice by mid-May”.
On the issue of Northern Ireland, he said: “Discussions have been constructive, but there are still significant differences that need to be resolved.”