The U.K. will continue negotiating with the European Union over Northern Ireland because it considers progress is being made, the latest sign that a further breakdown in post-Brexit relations with the bloc is not imminent.
Britain will hold off suspending parts of the Brexit divorce deal relating to Northern Ireland for as long as talks with the EU remain constructive, according to two people familiar with the matter. Though Boris Johnson’s government still considers that trade disruption in the region justifies suspending the accord, it still prefers a negotiated settlement, the people said.
Both sides have been trying to find a solution for the post-Brexit problems facing Northern Ireland. U.K. Brexit Minister David Frost is pushing for a significant overhaul of the existing treaty, while European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic is offering concessions within the framework of the existing deal. They are due to meet in London Friday.
Frost addressed the influential 1922 committee of rank-and-file Conservative MPs late Wednesday for the first time. He was upbeat about the current negotiations and indicated they are going in the right direction, according to one MP present, speaking on condition of anonymity. Another said Frost made clear that Article 16 — the tool for suspending the deal — is a legitimate option to be used, but that he is hopeful it won’t be needed.
Frost’s appearance follows signs that tensions between the U.K. and EU have cooled in recent days. Whereas the bloc had feared the U.K. was on the verge of triggering Article 16 — to which the EU has threatened retaliation which could result in a trade war — the tone of recent talks over post-Brexit trade rules in Northern Ireland has improved.
Johnson spoke to his Irish counterpart Micheal Martin on Wednesday and they discussed the protocol, agreeing that a negotiated outcome is the preferred outcome, according to a statement from the U.K. prime minister’s office.
“The prime minister was clear, however, that if talks were not able to deliver a rebalanced and sustainable outcome soon, the government would be left with no choice but to use the safeguard measures under Article 16,” it said.
In another sign that negotiations have some way to run, U.K. Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan told the Daily Telegraph newspaper this week that Article 16 would “absolutely not” be invoked before Christmas. But Frost told Tory MPs there is no timeline on potential Article 16 action, one of the MPs said.