UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has said she will call on the EU to be “pragmatic” when she hosts her first face-to-face Brexit talks on Thursday.
She will meet Maros Sefcovic, a Vice President of the European Commission, at her home near London to discuss the Northern Ireland Protocol.
“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,” Ms Truss said.
“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.”
To preserve the integrity of the EU's single market, goods that enter the bloc must undergo checks.
Northern Ireland shares a land border with the Republic of Ireland, an EU member state. But owing to its politically sensitive nature, it was agreed to carry out checks when goods arrive at Northern Irish ports, effectively keeping the province within the single market.
The mechanism was agreed by the UK and the EU as a means to prevent a return to a hard border on the island of Ireland, in keeping with the Good Friday Agreement. The peace deal, signed by London and Dublin in 1998, brought an end to most of the sectarian violence that had blighted Northern Ireland from the late 1960s.
But the protocol is fiercely opposed by some of Northern Ireland’s Unionists, who say the checks create an invisible border in the Irish Sea that distances the province from the rest of the UK.
Ms Truss will say that finding a solution to the Brexit impasse is central to protecting the Good Friday Agreement.
She has previously threatened to trigger Article 16, suspending parts of Britain’s post-Brexit deal with the EU if an agreement on the protocol cannot be reached.
“The EU has a clear responsibility to help fix the myriad problems caused by the Protocol and protect the Belfast [Good Friday] Agreement,” she said.
“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.”
Mr Sefcovic has said “the foundation of the entire deal” brokered between the UK and the EU would be jeopardised if Ms Truss triggered Article 16.
Joao Vale de Almeida, the bloc’s ambassador to the UK, said it was unhelpful to “keep agitating the issue” of triggering Article 16 before the meeting on Thursday.
The high-stakes talks will be divided into three negotiating sessions over two days and the pair will also chat over dinner. Scottish smoked salmon, Welsh lamb and Kent apple pie are on the menu.
It will be Ms Truss’s first face-to-face meeting about Brexit since she gained responsibility for the UK’s negotiations with the EU last month.
She took over the brief from Lord Frost, who stepped down as Brexit minister in December.