UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has said there is a “deal to be done” with the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol after talks were held over post-Brexit trade issues.
Following her first meeting with European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic, held at the foreign secretary's official residence at Chevening in Kent, Ms Truss said they had agreed to hold a further meeting on January 24.
However she refused to rule out the possibility that the UK could invoke Article 16 — suspending part of the arrangements in the protocol — if they could not agree on a way forward.
“We have had constructive talks with the EU. We are now going to going into intensive negotiations to work towards a negotiated solution to sort out these very real issues for the people of Northern Ireland,” she said in a pooled broadcast clip.
“I think there is a deal to be done. I do want to make progress. Clearly, if we don’t make sufficient progress, we will have to look at the alternatives, but my absolute desire is to get a deal that works for the people of Northern Ireland.”
Mr Sefcovic also welcomed the talks, but said it was now time to “start taking issues off the table”. He said he believed the EU had put forward “good proposals and good solutions".
Ms Truss assumed responsibility for the negotiations with the EU following the resignation of the Brexit minister, Lord Frost, last month.
The UK government is seeking substantial changes to the protocol — which forms part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement — arguing that it is hampering the free movement of goods between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK and damaging community relations.
Currently, the province effectively remains in the EU's customs union for goods, with checks taking place on goods moving between mainland Britain and Northern Ireland instead.
In a joint statement, Ms Truss and Mr Sefcovic said: “The meeting took place in a cordial atmosphere. [We] agreed that officials would meet next week in intensified talks and that the principals would meet again on January 24.
“We share a desire for a positive relationship between the EU and the UK underpinned by our shared belief in freedom and democracy.”