By PA Reporters
“Serious headway” needs to be made in negotiations over the Northern Ireland Protocol in the next week, the EU has said.
However, European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic said there had been a “change in tone” from the UK during the latest round of negotiations.
It comes after the UK government appeared to soften its stance on using the protocol’s get-out clause, describing Article 16 as a “legitimate part of the protocol’s provisions” while stressing there was a “preference to find a consensual way forward”.
At a press conference following the latest round of talks held in London on Friday, Mr Sefcovic said: “We can and must arrive at the agreed solution that Northern Ireland truly deserves.
“That is also why I raised forcefully that we need to make serious headway in the course of next week.
“This is particularly important as regards the issue of medicines.
“An uninterrupted long-term supply of medicines from Great Britain to Northern Ireland is the protocol-related issue on everyone’s mind in Northern Ireland.”
He also said there had been a “change in tone” from UK Brexit minister Lord Frost in the fourth round of talks held with the UK government.
Mr Sefcovic said: “I acknowledge and welcome the change in tone of discussion with David Frost today, and I hope this will lead to tangible results for the people in Northern Ireland.”
He told reporters the UK needed to “reciprocate the big move the EU has made” on the Northern Ireland Protocol.
He said he was “convinced the issue of medicines could be a blueprint for how to approach and solve together the remaining outstanding issues” between the UK and the trading bloc.
Following the talks, a UK government spokesman said: “Lord Frost noted that there remained significant gaps to be bridged between the UK and EU positions.
“He noted that, as set out to the House of Lords on November 10th, it remained the UK’s preference to find a consensual way forward, but that Article 16 safeguards were a legitimate part of the protocol’s provisions.
“Lord Frost also underlined the need to address the full range of issues the UK had identified in the course of discussions, if a comprehensive and durable solution was to be found that supported the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement and was in the best interests of Northern Ireland.
“In this context, although talks had so far been conducted in a constructive spirit, Lord Frost underlined that in order to make progress, it was important to bring new energy and impetus to discussions.”
The next set of talks will take place in Brussels on Friday, November 19th.
The UK has set a December deadline for resolving the renegotiation of the protocol.
In October, the EU offered a series of alterations to the agreement, which is designed to maintain free-flowing trade on the island of Ireland without a hard border.
The agreement effectively keeps Northern Ireland within the EU single market, meaning that trade goods must be checked on arrival from mainland UK.
The EU has offered to cut out 80 per cent of these checks, with the aim of helping businesses and the economy in Northern Ireland.
But the UK government is seeking further alterations to the agreement, including removing the role of judges in the European Court of Justice (ECJ) as the arbitrators of disputes.
On the role of the ECJ, Mr Sefcovic confirmed that “definitely nothing’s changed” in the EU’s position.