Brexit talks on a possible customs solution are approaching

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(Bloomberg) — UK and European Union negotiators are closing in on a resolution to end their long-running dispute over post-Brexit trade arrangements in Northern Ireland.

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After agreeing last week on real-time trade data, the two sides are also approaching an agreement on customs to ease friction between Britain and Northern Ireland since the UK left the bloc.

On Monday, British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly and European Commission Vice-President Maros Sefcovic will hold a call to take stock of talks to see if a comprehensive deal can be reached. The aim is then to enter a negotiation tunnel of intensive talks, although there are still major gaps on many points.

The prize is a deal that would unfreeze relations that have been strained since Britain finalized EU separation. A deal could also end a political stalemate that has prevented the formation of Northern Ireland’s devolved government over trade unionists’ objections to the Northern Ireland Protocol, the part of the existing pact that led to the region treated differently from the rest. of the UK.

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Talks gained momentum last week when the EU agreed to use a real-time UK database that tracks goods crossing Ireland’s maritime border – a development that could open up a wider customs deal.

‘Build trust’

The UK and the EU have made similar proposals to separate goods going only to Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK and goods entering the EU.

“There is a build-up of trust between the parties,” Irish MEP Barry Andrews, a member of Foreign Secretary Micheal Martin’s Dianna Fail party, told Times Radio on Sunday. “It is expected that there will be a political statement – not an internationally binding agreement – but a political statement and a framework for the way forward” after the Sefcovic-Cleverly meeting.

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After two years of resentment, the two sides are aiming to strike a comprehensive deal by the end of February, ahead of the anniversary of the 1998 Belfast peace agreement in April, Bloomberg previously reported.

What the UK and EU need to resolve in the quest for a final Brexit deal

But while the negotiators may be close to a customs deal, those familiar with the matter say there is still some way to go to reach a broader agreement, and thorny issues remain, not the latest place on the role of the European Court of Justice and controls on agriculture. -food products.

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Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s ruling Conservative party will also have to strike a deal that it can sell to Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, which firmly opposes the protocol. The DUP has been blocking the formation of the regional government since May, saying trade deals with Britain need to be changed first.

Sunak has already won the backing of Labor leader Keir Starmer, who on Friday pledged his support for an eventual deal, dampening the prospect of a future uprising in London by opposition MPs.

–With help from Ellen Milligan and Alberto Nardelli.

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