© Reuters. Northern Ireland’s First Minister Foster talks during a television interview outside the Stormont Parliament building in Belfast
BELFAST (Reuters) – There was no breakthrough at a “hugely disappointing” meeting between the European Commission and the British government on Wednesday over post-Brexit trade issues in Northern Ireland, the region’s first minister, Arlene Foster, said on Wednesday.
The British government is demanding concessions from the European Union to minimise disruption in trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom that have emerged since Britain left the bloc’s trading orbit in January.
The European Union has said it will be pragmatic in seeking solutions, but has blamed the disruption on Britain’s decision to exit the European Union and has called for London to implement measures agreed.
Foster, who attended the online meeting between European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic and British minister Michael Gove, said there had been “no breakthrough”.
“I can’t say I am surprised given the attitude of the EU to the protocol,” she told Northern Irish broadcaster UTV.
The Northern Ireland Protocol of Britain’s EU withdrawal deal effectively left the British province of Northern Ireland within the EU’s single market, and put a customs border in the Irish Sea dividing the province from mainland Britain.
Foster, who has supported the British demands for concessions, said Sefcovic refused a short extension of certain post-Brexit grace periods. She did not say what exactly Britain had asked for.
Foster said she wanted the protocol to be replaced at least in part. “We are not asking for the impossible at all,” she said.
Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, a member of Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein who also attended the meeting, was more positive.
“Both sides restated their commitment to finding practical solutions,” she said in a statement.
“I encouraged intensified efforts to find practical solutions to any problems within the framework of the Protocol, which is part of a legal-binding treaty and not going away, something which all parties must recognise,” she added.
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