EUROPEAN Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič has confirmed that ongoing talks with the UK on Brexit are “constructive” although “not easy”.
Following a meeting of the General Affairs Council, Mr Šefčovič made a statement on February 6 regarding recent discussions between the UK and EU on the issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol element of Britain's EU exit agreement.
“Turning to our discussion on EU-UK relations, I informed Ministers about the ongoing intensive scoping for potential joint solutions related to the implementation of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland,” he said.
“The Commission and the UK Government are working closely and constructively.
"Progress is being made but difficulties remain.”
He added: “President von der Leyen has a trusting relationship with UK Prime Minister Sunak.
“The same goes for my relationship with Foreign Secretary James Cleverly as well as Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris.
“We agree that joint solutions are needed to respond to the real-life concerns of all communities in Northern Ireland.”
Mr Šefčovič explained: “So, all in all, it is not an easy exercise, but it is certainly a necessary one.
“And the Commission will spare no effort to agree a joint way forward.”
The statement came on the same day that reports suggested a “breakthrough” in EU/UK negotiations on the controversial Northern Ireland Protocol.
The Guardian reports a senior EU official confirming an agreement on food and animal health checks was close ot being made which would create red and green lanes at Northern Irish ports for goods staying in the region and those moving into the EU’s single market.
Responding to the reports, Sinn Féin’s Brexit spokesperson Declan Kearney welcomed any progress made.
The South Antrim MLA said: "Today’s reports that the EU and the British government are potentially making new substantive progress towards securing a pragmatic and durable resolution to the protocol impasse are very encouraging.
“This comes on the back of the British government’s movement on the sharing of data on the flow of goods,” he explained.
“It is vitally important that the European Commission and the British Government officials continue these efforts to resolve any remaining issues so our businesses, farmers and families can be assured their interests will be fully protected and allows the Protocol to work smoothly.
Mr Kearney added: "The political stalemate caused during the last year which has blocked restoration of the Executive has exacerbated all of the challenges which we face in the north.
“The cost of living crisis continues to spiral and our health and social care service is at breaking point.
“The Protocol has nothing to do with sovereignty or identity. It is the only credible mechanism to manage the consequences of Brexit.
“We are hopefully approaching a point of pragmatic accommodation; so this a time for cool heads and leadership.”