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Brexit Minister Lord Frost warned that the EU’s proposals don’t “deal effectively” with the situation and the UK could pull the plug if a solution cannot be found quickly. Tensions escalated after Lord Frost met Maros Sefcovic in Brussels on Friday to try to find a way through the increasingly bitter impasse.
Downing Street insisted that disagreements between the UK and the European Union could still be bridged through “further intensive discussions”.
A UK Government spokesman said Lord Frost had said: “The EU’s proposals did not currently deal effectively with the fundamental difficulties in the way the Protocol was operating.”
The commission vice-president said he was “disappointed” there has been no “big move” from the UK.
“We have seen no move at all from the UK side,” he said.
“I found this disappointing and once again, I urge the UK Government to engage with us sincerely.”
Lord Frost’s meeting with Mr Sefkovic comes as the UK and European Union are still at loggerheads over the future of the Northern Ireland Protocol.
Speaking to reporters ahead of the meeting, Lord Frost said: “The gap between us is still quite significant but let’s see where we can get to.”
To avoid a hard border with Ireland, the protocol effectively keeps Northern Ireland inside the EU’s single market for goods, resulting in some checks for products crossing the Irish Sea from Great Britain, which left the single market.
Lord Frost said he would not immediately trigger Article 16, which would allow parts of the deal to be suspended.
He said: “We’re not going to trigger Article 16 today, but Article 16 is very much on the table and has been since July.
“If we can reach an agreement on the protocol that provides a sustainable solution, then that’s the best way forward.”
He has previously claimed the conditions for using the mechanism have been met because of the difficulties being caused.
No.10 added there is no set timescale on how long talks with the EU can continue.
Senior EU figures are hopeful that the use of Article 16 of the protocol can be avoided.
Lord Frost declined to say how long the negotiations would continue.
“I’m not going to give any timescales or any hypotheticals, we are trying to reach an agreement and we’re working very hard and we’re going to carry on trying.”
The Brexit minister has previously said he expects the issues around the protocol to be settled “one way or another” this autumn.
The UK also wants an end to the European Court of Justice’s oversight role, something that Brussels has said is impossible.
The European Commission executive vice-president, Frans Timmermans, told ITV’s Peston that Brussels was “bending over backwards” to reach an agreement with the UK.
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