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Lord Frost insisted the UK remains ready to tear up part of the deal fuelling unrest in Northern Ireland by using the emergency Article 16 clause. But the peer said talks with European Commission vicepresident Maros Sefcovic would continue next week in the hope of finding a solution. The Brexit minister added: “We discussed the full range of issues causing difficulties in Northern Ireland.
“We would still like to find a negotiated solution. But the gap between our positions is still significant and we are ready to use Article 16 to protect the Belfast [Good Friday] Agreement if other solutions cannot be found.
“Technical discussions will continue next week and we will meet again next Friday.”
Some progress was made on ending a standoff over medical supplies. Northern Ireland receives most medicines from Britain but EU rules will hit supplies from January.
More than 900 products will be withdrawn and 2,400 are at risk, sparking fears about patients’ treatments. And, as yet, no agreement has been reached.
Government sources said the issue was highly technical but solutions must work and a deal needed to be reached in weeks.
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Progress on rules restricting the flow of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland was said to be disappointing but discussions on the issue were described as constructive.
Mr Sefcovic said a “decisive push is needed to ensure predictability” in the region.
The EU offered to ease checks on goods from mainland Britain to end the so-called “sausage wars”. The dispute is fuelling tensions in Northern Ireland. A bus was hijacked and set on fire earlier this month in Newtonabbey.
But the Government said EU plans did not go far enough and is pushing for major reform.
Under the Northern Ireland Protocol the area remains part of the EU single market to keep the Irish border open. But this led to checks on some products from the rest of the UK and restrictions on chilled meats.
The test for triggering Article 16, which allows either side to suspend any aspect of the deal causing difficulties, was passed earlier this year but the Government prefers a negotiated solution. Lord Frost insists that agreement must end the role of European courts.
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