Talks between the EU and the UK on the dispute over the Northern Ireland Brexit protocol have ended the week without a breakthrough.
Both sides have indicated that serious gaps remain on thinking. The EU said it believed the UK was not taking its proposals, which it described as “unprecedented and far-reaching”, seriously enough.
The European Commission said in a statement that the proposals “address the concerns raised by the people and businesses of Northern Ireland” and that after assessing progress in the talks, its vice-president, Maroš Šefčovič, had “called on the UK government to engage constructively with these proposals”.
The UK’s Brexit minister, David Frost, said the talks had been conducted in a constructive spirit and there had been some overlap in positions “on a subset of issues”, but that on big issues such as the role of the European court of justice and state aid, the gaps were still substantial.
“As we have noted before, the EU’s proposals represent a welcome step forward, but do not free up goods movements between Great Britain and Northern Ireland to the extent necessary for a durable solution,” he said.
“Nor do they yet engage with the changes needed in other areas, such as subsidy policy, VAT, and governance of the protocol, including the role of the court of justice.
“Our position remains that substantial changes to the protocol will be needed if we are to find a sustainable solution that works in the best interests of Northern Ireland and supports” the Good Friday agreement.
The talks were overshadowed by a deepening dispute, not just over fishing and France’s threat to cut energy supplies to Jersey, but on “unjustified measures” to block the UK from associate membership of the £80bn Horizon Europe science research programme that was agreed in the trade deal last December.
Lord Frost said the UK would consider retaliation if such threats were carried out.
The row has further damaged already strained relations, but officials on both sides will enter a third week of negotiations over the narrow issue of the Northern Ireland protocol next week. Frost and Šefčovič are scheduled to meet again next Friday.
Talks this week centred on issues of customs and sanitary and phytosanitary checks on all fresh food going from Great Britain to supermarkets and independent stores in Northern Ireland.
The EU says its proposals eliminate most of the checks, but local businesses have said the waivers for British foods such as sausages do not make sense because they still involve EU standards as the benchmark of quality.