(Bloomberg) — The UK still sees “major gaps” with the European Union over post-Brexit arrangements in Northern Ireland, Foreign Secretary James Cleverly said, despite improved relations with the bloc at large.
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While some progress has been made with a live database that tracks goods moving from Britain to Northern Ireland, there is no solution and the two sides are not on the brink of a deal, Cleverly told Parliament on Tuesday .
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Slim took a noticeably more cautionary tone than Ireland’s Foreign Secretary Simon Coveney, who last week said a deal was “doable” by the end of the year. The UK government does want the issue resolved, as it is central to restoring the Northern Ireland power-sharing government, which has not functioned since February.
The UK wants a deal backed by the Democratic Unionist Party, which is blocking the formation of the devolved government in protest at the terms of the original UK-EU Brexit deal that keeps the region in the bloc’s internal market.
The UK has extended the TBEN for the formation of the regional executive, postponing elections and providing more space for EU talks. Slim said he has repeatedly told the bloc he will not agree to proposals that do not receive cross-community support in Northern Ireland.
“However we resolve this, we need to address the UK’s concerns,” Cleverly said, referring to the region’s political deadlock. “I don’t see a route through that yet, we’re still looking and if we can find one I’m very happy, but those concerns are there and they can’t just be brushed aside.”
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The bloc started testing the UK’s real-time trade flow system for the first time last week and, if satisfied, could pave the way for an agreement on customs controls – one of the issues they need to solve to get a get wider deal. Major hurdles beyond the controls include governance of Northern Ireland and the ability to push tax changes to the region.
“A good working relationship, regular conversations, goodwill and trust are necessary but not sufficient,” says Cleverly. “Those ingredients are there, but we should not conclude too quickly that it will all work out, because there is still serious work to be done and there are still big gaps.”
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