Nov 12 (Reuters) – Britain wants to defuse tensions with the European Union and renew efforts to find a solution to the trade dispute in Northern Ireland, which has threatened relations between the two sides, the Times newspaper reported on Friday.
British Brexit Minister David Frost will meet with Maros Sefcovic of the European Commission in London on Friday, and the Times said he would stress that a consensus could be found to ease trade tensions over his Irish province from the North.
Since leaving the EU last year, the UK has delayed introducing some border controls designed to avoid the need for a hard border between the British province and EU member Ireland. London says the controls are disproportionate and threaten the 1998 Northern Ireland peace agreement.
The EU says that stricter controls are necessary to protect its single market of 450 million people. EU governments have agreed on the need to take “strong” action against the UK if London follows through on its threat to unilaterally suspend elements of the Brexit divorce agreement.
Ireland suggested that could mean that the 2020 post-Brexit free trade deal would have to be shelved.
In recent weeks, the United Kingdom has threatened to activate Article 16, a measure that allows either party to take unilateral action if they consider that the agreement has a very negative impact on their interests.
Frost said earlier this week that the two sides had made progress in recent talks, but that the gap remained very large.
The Times said that while the UK had reservations about the Commission’s proposals to reduce controls on goods crossing between the UK and Northern Ireland, they could form the basis of an agreement, if changes are made.
“Activating Article 16 does not solve the problems we are facing,” a British source told the Times. “Even if we did, we would have to come back to the table in the end.”
(Reporting by Jahnavi Nidumolu in Bengaluru; edited by Jacqueline Wong and Michael Holden, translated by Tomás Cobos)