Liz Truss has told Brussels it has a “clear responsibility” to solve the problems caused by Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit deal as she held her first face-to-face talks with Maros Sefcovic.
The Foreign Secretary, who assumed responsibility for the negotiations following Lord Frost’s resignation, is hosting the European Commission vice-president at her Chevening country retreat in Kent for talks on Thursday and Friday.
Ahead of the meeting, she said the EU must show a “pragmatic approach” to the issues created by the Northern Ireland Protocol which effectively creates a trade barrier in the Irish Sea for goods crossing from Great Britain in order to prevent a hard border with Ireland.
Mr Sefcovic insisted the EU is committed to “stability” and “predictability” in Northern Ireland and said the talks offer the opportunity to build on progress made last month on the issue of medicines.
While at Chevening, he will be treated to a dinner of Scottish smoked salmon, Welsh lamb and apple pie made with fruit from Kent.
Ms Truss said: “There is a deal to be done that protects peace in Northern Ireland, defends our Union, and maintains the integrity of the United Kingdom and EU.
“But it will require a pragmatic approach from the EU.
“I will be putting forward practical, reasonable solutions starting from these fundamental principles, with a view to agreeing a plan for intensive negotiations.
“The EU has a clear responsibility to help fix the myriad problems caused by the protocol and protect the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement.
“As fellow believers in liberty and democracy, we should be capable of reaching an agreement that delivers for Northern Ireland and allows us to unleash the full potential of our relationship”.
Downing Street said the UK still believes the conditions for triggering Article 16 – unilaterally suspending parts of the treaty – have been reached, but the Government is still focused on trying to resolve the issues through talks.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We need to fix the problems in the protocol in order to protect the Belfast Agreement and the peace process.
“The Foreign Secretary will be putting forward practical and reasonable solutions with a view to agreeing a plan for intensive negotiations.
“We very much believe there is a deal to be done but the EU must show pragmatism.
“It remains our strong preference to reach a negotiated solution, which is what you can see we are seeking to achieve today.”
Mr Sefcovic tweeted: “In Dec, we delivered on medicines. Now we have an opportunity to do so on other issues, building on the EU’s far-reaching proposals. My objective: stability, predictability in NI.”